Cathy Heller tells PEOPLE that the GOP nominee attempted to kiss her on the mouth during a visit to Mar-a-Lago
When Cathy Heller saw the video of Donald Trump telling Billy Bush how he just starts kissing beautiful women without their permission, Heller thought, “‘That’s him, that’s exactly how he acted, it happened to me,’ ” she tells PEOPLE.
And when Trump dismissed his lewd comments during last Sunday’s debate as “locker room talk” and said that he had never kissed a woman without her permission, Heller, 63, says she knew it was about more than just words.
“It drove me crazy,” the New York woman says. “It’s not just locker room talk. That’s who he is. He is a guy who grabs women.”
In the late ’90s, Heller says she was at a brunch at Mar-a-Lago — which she believes was on Mother’s Day — with her in-laws and children when her mother-in-law, a club member, introduced her to Trump.
Heller says she extended her hand to shake Trump’s, but he took it and pulled her towards him to kiss her on the mouth.
She pulled away and said no, she alleges. “He said ‘Oh, come on’ and he was angry,” Heller says. “He really grabbed me and he was holding me very tight to kiss me on the mouth.
“He was strong,” she continues. “And he really caught me off guard and off balance, literally, because I had these heels on which I don’t always wear.”
The kiss never made it fully onto her lips, Heller says.
“I was able to turn my head a little,” Heller says. “So he didn’t get my whole mouth.”
A relative who was behind Heller when it happened tells PEOPLE: “I saw her moving back, trying to escape his grasp and he kept moving forward and it was almost like he was falling forward.
“And she turned around and said, ‘Oh my gosh, did you see what happened?’ and she was upset about it and it was in plain view,” recalls the relative, who wishes to remain anonymous due to a fear of retaliation.
“It was like, ‘This gross guy, who does he think he is, he was falling on top of her to kiss her and in front of everyone,” says the relative. “How entitled does this guy think he is?”
The incident left Heller “very angry and shaken,” Heller says. She immediately told her husband, Lloyd, who was nearby. “I said, ‘You should have punched him,’ ” Heller recalls. “I thought he was a scary guy then.”
Lloyd tells PEOPLE he was “puzzled” why Trump would attempt something like that. “It was in a kinda public place,” he says. “And not something you would expect someone to do.”
In the years that followed, Heller says she told friends and other family members about the incident. She decided to share the story with PEOPLE in the hopes that other women will come forward.
“It wasn’t easy going public with my story,” she says. “I know there are many more women out there.”
Since the Oct. 7 release of the Trump tape with Bush, Heller is the ninth woman to go public with stories of Trump’s sexual aggression.
This includes former PEOPLE writer Natasha Stoynoff, who was allegedly attacked by Trump during an interview in 2005 at Mar-a-Lago.
Trump has denied all the allegations against him, and his campaign refutes Heller’s story.
“There is no way that something like this would have happened in a public place on Mother’s Day at Mr. Trump’s resort,” Trump spokesman Jason Miller said in a statement to PEOPLE. “It would have been the talk of Palm Beach for the past two decades.
“The reality is this: for the media to wheel out a politically motivated Democratic activist with a legal dispute against this same resort owned by Mr Trump does a disservice to the public, and anyone covering this story should be embarrassed for elevating this bogus claim.”
Heller says she is no activist, and her sole political activity has been contributing $2,700 once to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. She also bought a $5 women’s card — a card sold by Clinton’s campaign after Trump had accused her of “playing the woman card.”
Heller adds that while she is a registered Democrat, her husband is a registered Republican.
Heller also denies she or her family have a legal dispute against Mar-a-Lago. While she is “80-percent sure” the incident happened on a Mother’s Day in 1997 or ’98, Heller, her husband and the relative are certain it happened at a family brunch at Mar-a-Lago.
The relative who spoke to PEOPLE says that the incident was actually talked about by “everyone.”
“We were like, ‘that’s the craziest thing, remember when Trump did that to you?’ At that time, he wasn’t running for president, he didn’t have these reality TV shows, it was just another creepy guy,” the relative says.
Heller’s longtime friend Susan Klein recalls Heller sharing the story about a year-and-a-half ago at their mahjong game, when Trump’s presidential ambitions were taking shape.
“I was like, ‘Oh my god, that’s so disgusting,’ ” Klein tells PEOPLE.
Heller consulted with her rabbi before finally going public.
“I do feel it’s important, I feel that that there are dozens if not hundreds of women who have similar experiences or worse” she says. “I hope they all have the courage to come out, it’s important to know this about a presidential candidate.”