The state ethics commission, which has been weighing a sexual harassment scandal involving Assemb. Vito Lopez, signaled Wednesday the case against the once-powerful Brooklyn politician is moving forward.
In a terse statement, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics announced it has submitted a “substantial basis investigation report” — the rough equivalent of an indictment — to two state legislative ethics committees for further action.
Though JCOPE didn’t specifically name Lopez, commission members acknowledged last year they were investigating claims that he groped and harassed former employees. A source familiar with the case confirmed Wednesday that an investigative report was being sent to Lopez’ attorney.
Besides Lopez, the scandal also has entangled Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan). A Silver spokesman said he was “confident” the investigation found no legal violations by the speaker or his staff.
Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), co-chairman of the Legislative Ethics Commission, declined to comment, citing “the confidential nature of this process.”
At issue are sexual allegations against Lopez (D-Brooklyn) and a secret settlement approved by Silver. The Assembly agreed to pay $135,000 -- $103,000 in public money -- to two former Lopez’ staffers and their attorneys to settle the case.
The episode is not only the subject of JCOPE’s investigation but a separate criminal probe by a special prosecutor. Silver has acknowledged he mishandled the case by not sending the complaints to the Assembly Ethics Committee.
The ethics commission also has asked for information from state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, whose offices approved the payment.
Lopez resigned his post as chairman of the Kings County Democratic Party, but he’s resisted calls from Silver and others to resign his Assembly seat. He easily crushed a little-known Republican opponent last November to win re-election.
A Silver spokesman said the ethics report should be made public.
“As we have said throughout, we are confident that the commission found no legal or ethical violation by Speaker Silver or his staff and urge the Legislative Ethics Commission to release the report immediately,” spokesman Michael Whyland said in an email.