Resignations can't end ethics probe

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Leaving office won’t necessarily protect Assemb. Vito Lopez from an inquiry by the state ethics panel.

That’s because the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics has jurisdiction over state officials for one year after they leave office, an official confirmed Friday.

Lopez (D-Brooklyn) is under mounting pressure to resign after an internal Assembly committee determined he violated the chamber’s sexual harassment policy when dealing with former staffers. Subsequently, officials revealed earlier complaints against Lopez, which resulted in Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) approving a $135,000 settlement payment - $103,000 from taxpayer funds and $32,000 from Lopez.

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Lopez has resigned as Kings County chairman but vowed to stay in his Assembly office. Silver stripped Lopez of a lucrative committee chairmanship. Silver has said the payments were "legal and ethical" but acknowledged his mishandled the issue on transparency grounds.

Amid calls for Lopez to leave public office, it’s worth noting that doing so won’t end a pending probe by the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics.

JCOPE spokesman John Milgrim said that the commission has jurisdiction over state officials for 12 months after they leave state service.

JCOPE has subpoena power and can impose civil fines against legislators, statewide elected officials, legislative and statewide candidates, state and legislative employees, some political party chairs, lobbyists and their clients.

If JCOPE finds that Lopez or Silver violated state ethics laws, state laws says the findings would be returned to the Assembly ethics committee for enforcement.

JCOPE abruptly slated a meeting for next week. Though it won’t officially disclose the subject matter, officials in several state offices confirm they’ve received letters asking them to preserve documents related to the Lopez issue.


 

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