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Ethics Commission Slaps Vito Lopez With $330,000 Fine

Once-Powerful Assemblyman Has Also Been Hit With Lawsuits
Vito Lopez

Former Assemblyman Vito Lopez (Photo: CBS 2)

ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A state legislative commission on Tuesday levied a fine of $330,000 against a once-powerful assemblyman accused of groping, intimidating and manipulating young female staffers in a 2012 scandal that is still shaking the Assembly.

The state Legislative Ethics Commission fined Vito Lopez what appears to be the largest fine in Albany history over the sexual harassment claims. The commission found at least 33 “inappropriate actions,” “offensive comments of a sexual nature” and “unwanted physical contact” against at least four women while he was an assemblyman and powerful Brooklyn political leader.

The commission noted Lopez was accused of taking a trip to Atlantic City with a staffer without “legitimate government purpose.” One of his accusers had testified Lopez tried to force his hand to her upper thigh on the trip, among other claims of sexual harassment.

The state Joint Commission on Public Ethics and a special prosecutor had detailed the accusations against Lopez, although the 72-year-old has not been accused of any crime. The Legislative Ethics Commission was acting on recommendations from JCOPE that Lopez violated civil provision of the state Public Officers Law.

There was no immediate comment Tuesday from Lopez’s attorney, Gerald B. Lefcourt.

Two women have sued Lopez, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and the Assembly itself, saying they were hired by him last year and subjected to sexual harassment by him. Just weeks before the suits, Silver had settled claims by two other women against Lopez in a secret deal using $103,000 in public funds.

One plaintiff, Victoria Burhans, said Lopez asked her if she wanted to spend the night with him, naked, in the Governor’s Mansion. She said he also told her to have sex with a senior member of the governor’s staff to get one of Lopez’s bills passed.

Lopez, a Brooklyn Democrat, has denied sexually harassing anyone. He resigned his seat last month as Silver moved to expel him, but said he was leaving to run for New York City Council.

Earlier, Silver had crafted a $103,000 secret settlement using public money last summer to end the first accusations against Lopez. Soon after, more women on Lopez’s staff accused him of sexual harassment. Silver followed Assembly policy with those complaints, which made them public.

Lopez paid $35,000 in the secret settlement, drafts of which were reviewed by top staff in the attorney general’s office and the comptroller’s office.

The episode threatened Silver’s leadership role, which he’s held since 1994. Silver has admitted he made a mistake, apologized and is pushing for reforms.

Meanwhile, Members of the City Council have launched a crusade to keep Lopez from getting elected to the legislative body, arguing he does not represent the best interest of the people of Brooklyn.

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