updated 8/26/2004 11:15:44 AM ET 2004-08-26T15:15:44

A woman claims in a lawsuit that William Kennedy Smith sexually assaulted her in 1999, and her lawyer said Thursday that she did not come forward at the time because she was intimidated by his wealth and connections.

The Kennedy cousin cleared of rape charges in 1991 said his family and personal history made him a target for “outrageous” allegations. And the woman herself acknowledged having had a relationship with Smith some months after the alleged assault.

In the suit filed Wednesday, 28-year-old Audra Soulias alleges that after a night of drinking in 1999, Smith, now 43, forced her out of a cab and into his home where he sexually assaulted her. She is seeking more than $50,000 in damages.

Her attorney, Kevin O’Reilly, told NBC's "Today" show that she was initially afraid to file charges because of Smith's family connections.

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In 1991, a jury in West Palm Beach, Fla., acquitted Smith of sexual assault and battery on a then 30-year-old woman he met in a nightclub. He said the sex between him and the accuser, Patricia Bowman, was consensual.

Soulias worked in 1999 as a personal assistant for Smith at the Center for International Rehabilitation, a group led by Smith that helps land mine victims, according to the lawsuit.

“He dragged me into his house, dragged me upstairs in his bedroom where he raped me,” Soulias told WBBM-TV in Chicago.

Soulias alleges that afterward, Smith left her apologetic voicemail messages.

She and Smith later had a relationship that lasted several months, O’Reilly said, but he said it amounted to further victimization.

“It was situation where the predator came back for the prey,” he told NBC’s “Today” show. “It was an easy target; he was the boss, she was the employee.” He called Soulias an “innocent girl ... who had never had a boyfriend, never had a sexual relationship.”

Soulias ultimately decided to file the civil lawsuit because she wanted to stop an alleged pattern of harassment by Smith, O’Reilly said.

“This isn’t about money, this is about getting Dr. Smith to stop,” he said.

The nephew of Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts said in a statement that the allegations are false, calling them “outrageous, untrue and without merit.”

“Unfortunately, my family and my personal history have made me unusually vulnerable to these kinds of allegations,” Smith said.

Two other women filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the fall of 2003 claiming “repeated sexual harassment” and “unwanted sexual advances” by Smith, according to the lawsuit.

The CIR statement said the allegations stem from a “disgruntled employee who had failed to receive a promotion” who approached Soulias and other former employees.

Smith is one of four children of former ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith.

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