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Ethics levies record fine against Lopez, $330,000

Assemblyman Vito Lopez sits during a session at

Assemblyman Vito Lopez sits during a session at the Capitol in Albany on Jan. 14, 2013. Photo Credit: AP

ALBANY -- A legislative ethics panel Tuesday fined ex-Assemb. Vito Lopez $330,000 in connection with a sexual harassment scandal, the largest penalty it has ever ordered.

The Legislative Ethics Commission said Lopez, 72, a once-powerful Brooklyn Democrat, should be penalized $10,000 for violating the state Public Officers Law 33 times. Lopez has been accused of routinely groping and harassing young female staffers.

In a written decision, the commission said Lopez violated the law "through knowing and intentional conduct" and that he committed "numerous inappropriate actions and offensive comments of a sexual nature with certain legislative staff," referring to four former staffers.

Newsday reported last week that the panel voted to fine Lopez in excess of $300,000. Tuesday's announcement made it official.

"This was behavior that we all found reprehensible," said Assemb. Tony Jordan (R-Jackson), one of eight members of the commission. "So part of this was to send a message that this behavior is not appropriate and is not to be tolerated."

The commission could have levied a far more modest $10,000 fine, based on a general finding that Lopez violated conduct laws for legislators. But panelists chose to assess $10,000 for each instance of misconduct.

"There is an advisory opinion issued some years ago that establishes the [commission] has full authority to impose a sanction for every distinct violation," said Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), commission co-chairman.

Neither Lopez nor his lawyer appeared before the commission, though they submitted the same lengthy rebuttal they provided a separate state ethics panel.

"They were provided every opportunity to be heard," Lavine said.

Lopez's lawyer didn't immediately return a message seeking comment.

Lopez resigned effective May 20 after a civil investigation by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics found he violated conduct laws and the Assembly announced it would begin expulsion procedures.

A separate criminal prosecutor determined that no "chargeable crime" occurred, but criticized Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) for his handling of the matter, which included a confidential payment to two victims to settle claims.

Last week, two alleged victims filed federal and state lawsuits against Lopez and Silver.

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