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New York Ethics Report in Sen. Lopez Scandal Could Be Released This Month

Vito Lopez

The state ethics commission report on the Assemblyman Vito Lopez sexual harassment scandal might finally be made public later this month.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or JCOPE, issued a report on its investigation into sexual harassment charges against Brooklyn Assemblyman Vito Lopez back in February. The report was also to address how Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and his aides handled the matter.

The Assembly Speaker admitted at the time that he had made a “mistake” when he initially agreed to keep secret monetary settlements against two alleged victims of sexual harassment. The settlements came to light after the Assembly went public with two more settlements against two other alleged victims of Lopez.
Speaker Silver spoke about the matter earlier this year.

“I did not make an ethical mistake as far as I’m concerned,” Silver said in an interview last winter. “It was a political mistake.”
But Silver says he believed at the time that he acted in the “best interest” of the alleged victims, who had sought privacy, of fear it would “damage their careers”.    
The public, though, has never seen the report. It was given to the State Legislative Ethics Commission, which under the complex rules set up for the ethics commission, is permitted to keep any report private for 45 days. Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan had also requested that the report be held even longer, while he conducts a criminal investigation.
The ethics commission appears to be growing restless. On April 30th, they issued a cryptic statement saying the commission “shall release the report in its entirety” after an on going 90 day waiting period, if the Legislative Ethics Commission does not release the report on it’s own by then.
The New York Times reported several days later that the statement was in response to a letter sent by the Legislative Ethics Committee. It asked that part of the Lopez report, which dealt with the conduct of Speaker Silver’s aides, be redacted. A spokesman for Silver denied any involvement in the request.
Governor Cuomo, who championed the creation of the state ethics commission in 2011, refused to get involved, when asked about it at a press conference, saying it’s “not my place to comment”. But the governor, when questioned about the corruption scandals in general, says he doesn’t think it’s JCOPE’s job to be a prosecutorial entity.
“JCOPE was never designed to be the investigatory, prosecutorial agency, right?” Cuomo said. “ JCOPE was not supposed to be doing the job of the US Attorneys or the District Attorneys.”
However, when the ethics commission was formed in June, 2011,  the accompanying announcement said JCOPE would indeed  “have jurisdiction to investigate potential violations of law by legislators and legislative employees “, and deliver its findings to the Legislative Ethics Commission. That same announcement also said that the report must be made public “within strict timeframes”.

The 90 day deadline cited by the ethics commission occurs in mid-May. JCOPE has not yet confirmed a specific day for the release of the Lopez sex harassment scandal report.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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