Watchdog secures scandal records

September 7, 2012 By Michael Gormley, Associated Press
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ALBANY— The state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics has ordered state records to be secured regarding a $103,000 private settlement of sexual harassment charges against a Democratic assemblyman in letters that appear to confirm the board is investigating the case, officials said Thursday.

In addition, attorney Gloria Allred who represented women in the private settlement said she has received subpoenas from JCOPE and is cooperating with the commission.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s office received an “information preservation” letter, a spokesman said Thursday. Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office also received a letter, said DiNapoli spokeswoman Kate Gurnett.

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Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s spokesman didn’t respond to inquiries from the Associated Press.

It wasn’t clear if JCOPE was investigating only Lopez, who has few, if any, allies, or would expand the probe to investigate the powerful speaker’s role. JCOPE has refused to say if it is investigating the case. The board met for two hours behind closed doors on Tuesday.

The $103,000 secret settlement in June used public money to end sexual harassment accusations against Democratic Assemblyman Vito Lopez of Brooklyn. The settlement involving two women staffers surfaced Aug. 24, when Lopez was censured by the Assembly ethics committee following sexual harassment accusations by two other women staffers in July. Silver had immediately stripped Lopez of leadership position and its stipend and has urged Lopez to resign.

“The speaker has made it very clear that he desires a thorough investigation by JCOPE to get all the facts out regarding this matter and urges all the members of the commission to vote for a full inquiry,” said Silver spokesman Michael Whyland. “A full investigation will show that all actions were legal and taken in good faith to protect the victims.”

Lopez has refused to resign and said he never sexually harassed anyone. He said the accusations against him are politically motivated. Lopez’s office didn’t respond to an inquiry by the AP as to whether JCOPE sent a letter to the assemblyman.

The “information preservation” letter is not a letter to any target of a JCOPE probe, but a letter to make sure all records regarding the case are preserved, Gurnett told the AP on Thursday.

The June settlement was approved by Silver. Lawyers from the comptroller’s office and the attorney general’s office had email discussions with the Assembly’s lawyer about drafts of the settlement. Emails released last week show discussion of minor elements of three drafts of the settlement. The emails show no approval nor any attempt to reject or block the settlements.
DiNapoli’s office said it followed routine procedure in paying out a voucher from the Assembly for legal services in a settlement negotiated by the Assembly majority’s counsel.

The Lopez case is being investigated by Special Prosecutor Dan Donovan, the Republican Staten Island district attorney.

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