Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday threatened to appoint his own powerful, subpoena-wielding commission to investigate a quiet Assembly sexual harassment settlement if the state’s joint ethics board fails to launch a probe.
In a statement Friday, Cuomo threatened to bring together an investigatory panel under the state’s Moreland Act, a little-used, 105-year-old law that allows the governor to probe nearly any state entity.
Cuomo’s statement came after The New York Times reported that the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics voted against including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in a probe over sexual harassment allegations in the Legislature’s lower chamber.
Four separate female employees have accused longtime Assemblyman Vito Lopez, D-Brooklyn, of harassment. In June, Silver quietly authorized a confidential settlement with two of the accusers that included $103,080 in state funds.
In his statement, Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto dismissed the reports regarding JCOPE as “rumors.”
“However, if such rumors are true, we believe it would be unconscionable for any legislative appointees to JCOPE to block such investigation,” Vlasto said. “If they are, the Governor will appoint a Moreland Act Commission to conduct an investigation that would include these matters. Either way, the public will know the facts and answers to the questions that have been raised.”
Also on Friday, an administrative state Supreme Court judge ordered Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan to include the settlement payment in a separate criminal investigation. Donovan was appointed as a special prosecutor to investigate the claims against Lopez, who will soon step down as chairman of the Brooklyn Democratic Committee.
UPDATE: Silver spokesman Michael Whyland reiterated that Silver welcomes an investigation.
“The Speaker has made it very clear that he desires a thorough investigation to get all the facts out regarding this matter,” Whyland said in a statement. “A full investigation will show that all of the Assembly’s actions were legal and taken in good faith to protect the victims.”
You can find Vlasto’s full statement after the jump.
“In response to public reports and inquiries today, we have no reason to believe that JCOPE is not acting appropriately and diligently and conducting a full, thorough investigation, using all its legal authority, of claims of sexual harassment against Assemblyman Vito Lopez and the circumstances surrounding their handling. As far as rumors to the contrary suggesting that JCOPE is not investigating the settlement payments and the circumstances under which they were made, we believe they are just that – rumors. However, if such rumors are true, we believe it would be unconscionable for any legislative appointees to JCOPE to block such investigation. If they are, the Governor will appoint a Moreland Act Commission to conduct an investigation that would include these matters. Either way, the public will know the facts and answers to the questions that have been raised.”