NY ethics panel faces probe on Lopez leaks

Assemb. Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn)

Assemb. Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn) (Credit: Bryan Pace, 2001)

Travel deals

ALBANY -- New York's inspector general is expected to look into information leaks from the state ethics board regarding sexual harassment allegations against Assemb. Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn).

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics is investigating not only the allegations against Lopez but also a $135,000 settlement approved by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan).

Several commissioners complained publicly this week about what they called inaccurate news media "leaks" about their votes behind closed doors -- releasing such confidential information constitutes a misdemeanor under the law that created the panel in 2011.

The statute says that "any breach of confidentiality shall be investigated by the inspector general."

A source said the inspector general is required to look into the issue. An official at the inspector general's office declined to comment, saying it doesn't confirm or deny any investigations or whether a complaint has been filed. An ethics commission spokesman also declined to comment.

The acting Inspector General is Cathy Leahy Scott, a former assistant attorney general under Andrew M. Cuomo when he was attorney general, and deputy inspector general under Ellen Biben, who now leads the ethics commission. Biben also worked under Cuomo when he was attorney general.

Media outlets reported the commission initially voted, in a closed-door session, to investigate Lopez but not Silver. That sparked Cuomo's office to threaten to impanel its own investigation. Some commission members said the media reports were inaccurate and called Cuomo's statement coercive, saying the board's independence was at stake.

"I'm straining to figure out how this new commission can have its credibility restored after this onslaught of leaks," Commissioner Marvin Jacob said at a public meeting Monday. He couldn't be reached for comment Thursday.

One commissioner, Ravi Batra, resigned shortly after Cuomo's statement. He said he'd contacted federal officials about what he termed improper activities at the ethics board.

Last month, an internal Assembly committee determined that Lopez violated the chamber's sexual harassment policy by trying to force contact with female staffers. He was removed from his committee chairmanship.

Subsequently, Silver disclosed that a previous allegation resulted in a $135,000 settlement -- including $103,000 in public money. Silver has said he mishandled the matter by not sending it to the Assembly ethics committee.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Newsday on social media

@Newsday

advertisement | advertise on newsday