The state's ethics committee met Monday amid the growing scandal surrounding a downstate lawmaker. At issue now is whether the panel's private investigation should be made public. Capital Tonight's Nick Reisman has more.
ALBANY, N.Y. -- As the sexual harassment scandal swirling around Assemblyman Vito Lopez continues, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics says it's investigating. It just won't say what, or who, is under investigation.
JCOPE Chairwoman Janet DiFiore said, “The commissioner unanimously voted today to commence a substantial basis investigation pursuant to executive law 94-13A. That concludes my public comment and report out from the executive session.”
Later, Commissioner Mary Lou Rath acknowledged that it was Lopez and the allegations he groped and harassed at least five female staffers that was the target of the inquiry.
“An investigation of what?” a reporter asked.
Rath said, “The one that we're all here talking about.”
The latest scandal to hit Albany focuses on the once powerful Brooklyn lawmaker and the more than $130,000 in settlement money paid to at least two of the victims. The settlement money was negotiated by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who says he regrets keeping the payments a secret. Silver has called for a full investigation of the matter, an investigation that would likely show others are involved. It's a line of thinking that Governor Andrew Cuomo backed up in radio interview.
“It was a secret deal reviewed by the attorney general's office and implemented by the comptroller's office,” Cuomo said.
Ethics commissioners were disturbed by a statement released by the governor's office that suggested legislative appointees wanted to block a investigation that would focus on Silver's actions, suggesting that it was sent in an error. But Cuomo confirmed in the interview that he may call his own probe into the matter.
Cuomo said, “The governor has the option of doing a Moreland Commission. So like most situations in Albany, there's always a plan B.”
As if accusations of illegal leaks to the press and a lack of transparency weren't enough, Ravi Batra, an outspoken commissioner appointed by Senate Minority Leader John Sampson, resigned his seat on the panel Friday citing a lack of independence at JCOPE. He released a rambling, eight-page letter to Cuomo on Monday calling for an investigation of JCOPE itself. Still, commissioners defend JCOPE saying it is functioning properly.
Rath said, “I have higher hopes for this than anything I have seen in government before. I see no hidden agendas. I see only a desire to have the people of the state of New York understand there are good people in government trying to do the right thing.”
In a separate investigation, Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan has been appointed special prosecutor for the Lopez scandal.