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Sources: Ethics panel to recommend six-figure fine for Vito Lopez
ALBANY -- A legislative ethics panel will recommend fining ex-Assemb. Vito Lopez "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in connection with the sexual harassment scandal that forced him to resign, two sources said Tuesday.
The state Legislative Ethics Commission met Tuesday to consider fining Lopez, 71, a once-powerful Brooklyn lawmaker, $10,000 per violation of the state Public Officers Law, the sources said. They added that Lopez faced upwards of 30 violations.
Lopez resigned effective May 20 after a states ethics investigation found that he violated ethics laws by routinely groping and harassing young female staffers, and the state Assembly announced it would begin expulsion procedures.
A separate criminal prosecutor, Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan, determined no "chargeable crime" occurred, but criticized Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) for his handling of the matter, which Donovan said was more about the "desire to shield the Assembly" than to protect victims.
Lopez has maintained that the prosecutor's determination clears him and that he resigned only because he wants to run for New York City Council. He claimed the ethics investigation amounted to "an all-out war against an ailing senior member," referring to cancer.
But the resignation doesn't prevent the Legislative Ethics Commission from sanctioning Lopez for violations of the public officers' law. The bipartisan panel is expected to formally announce its decision soon.
The Legislative Ethics Commission has the power to sanction lawmakers even after they've left state service. For example, in 2012 it ordered former state Sen. Pedro Espada to pay $80,000 after determining he violated state law by hiring his uncle.
Silver, the long-time legislative leader, has disclosed that he had agreed to spend $103,000 in taxpayers' money in a confidential agreement to settle claims by two women against Lopez. Silver acknowledged the payment only after two other former Lopez staffers came forward with complaints. Silver since admitted he violated Assembly policy by not immediately sending the first complaints to an ethics panel for investigation.
After Lopez resigned, Silver admitted to a "glaring" failure, and proposed that any sexual harassment claim by handled by an outside investigator, not the Speaker or his legal staff. Though a few Republicans have called for Silver to resign, just two of the 105 Assembly Democrats have done so.