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The Department of Justice announced Wednesday that it has filed a lawsuit alleging that Douglas Waterbury, an Oswego landlord and owner of the Sterling Renaissance Festival, sexually harassed tenants.

The lawsuit alleges that since at least 1990, Waterbury has sexually harassed several women who have lived in his properties or inquired about them, violating the Fair Housing Act. His conduct, the lawsuit says, has included demanding female tenants engage in sex acts with him to obtain or keep housing, unwelcome sexual contact, offering housing benefits in exchange for sex acts, and refusing needed maintenance for tenants who refused his advances. The DOJ seeks monetary damages to compensate the victims, civil penalties and a court order barring future discrimination.

"Subjecting tenants and those looking for housing to harassment and demands for sex is unacceptable," Acting Assistant Attorney Gen. John Gore said in a news release.

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The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York. It also names Waterbury's wife and business partner, Carol A. Waterbury, and two companies, E&A Management and Ontario Realty. It's through the latter company that Waterbury bought the Sterling Renaissance Festival, a summer attraction that brings thousands to the northern Cayuga County town, in 2008. The festival has faced financial difficulties in recent years, including foreclosure proceedings Waterbury was able to avoid by paying off tax debt.

A similar lawsuit was filed in August by nonprofit CNY Fair Housing and six women who claim to have been harassed by Waterbury. Two of the plaintiffs said that when they asked Waterbury to address a broken furnace and a mice infestation, they were told that they "were not as 'fun' as he wanted them to be, that they were not having sex with him as frequently as he wanted, and that they should not use protection," the lawsuit says.

Another woman, who said she worked for the Sterling Renaissance Festival in 2010, told a reporter for The Palladium-Times in Oswego that Waterbury told her in public that her costume didn't show enough cleavage, and then adjusted the costume for her. 

Waterbury directed comment on the DOJ's lawsuit to his attorney, who did not respond to a request for comment. Waterbury did say that the 42nd season of the Sterling Renaissance Festival will take place as planned beginning in July.

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Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or david.wilcox@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.

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I'm the features editor for The Citizen and auburnpub.com, and have been here since 2006. I also cover local arts and culture, business, food and drink, and more.