ALBANY – The state agency investigating the sexual harassment cases against a once-powerful Brooklyn assemblyman has sent its findings of ethical violations to two legislative panels for possible further action.
The probe against Democratic Assemblyman Vito Lopez by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics has been described by sources as explosive, and the ethics agency said it had found a “substantial basis’’ to conclude wrongdoing was committed in the case.
Officials at the commission and the Senate and Assembly declined to make the report public.
While Lopez already has lost his political power since the scandal erupted last summer and could find himself now facing new legal problems, all eyes in Albany have been waiting for the report to see how far it might go in causing problems for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
“As we have said throughout, we are confident that the commission found no legal or ethical violation by Speaker Silver or his staff and urge the Legislative Ethics Commission to release the report immediately,’’ Michael Whyland, a Silver spokesman, said in a statement Wednesday night.
Individuals subject to the “substantial basis’’ charge by the ethics commission are required to have been sent a copy of the agency’s findings. Lopez’s lawyer was sent a copy of the report by commission officials. But Whyland said Silver and his office were not provided a copy, which suggests Silver will face no serious ethics allegations as a result of the probe.
The Manhattan Democrat approved a secret $103,000 settlement with taxpayer funds involving Lopez. Lopez, who had been chairman of the Assembly housing committee and served for years as the Democratic Party boss in Brooklyn, had been accused of sexually harassing two female staffers in his Albany offices, including an alleged incident in which he groped one of the women.
Silver last year defended his decision on the settlement as “legally correct and ethical’’ and a way to resolve matters involving employees who are harassed by their bosses. But he said it was wrong “from the perspective of transparency.’’
Silver said such confidential settlements would end in the Assembly and that any future cases would be brought to the legislative ethics panel for an investigation.
The investigation by the ethics commission, an agency heavy with senior staff who are loyalists of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, sent its “substantial basis investigation report’’ to the Legislative Ethics Commission, a Senate and Assembly panel.
Senate Republicans declined to release the report, citing confidentiality rules. Sen. Andrew Lanza, a Staten Island Republican and co-chairman of the panel, was unavailable to comment.
Assemblyman Charles Lavine, a Long Island Democrat and the panel’s other co-chairman, would not say if the report would be made public anytime soon.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics cannot impose penalties on legislators or legislative employees. That will be up to the Legislative Ethics Commission. If it concurs with the joint commission’s findings, the legislative panel can determine penalties in the matter.
The joint commission’s statement Wednesday evening did not say if its findings were turned over to any criminal prosecutors. The Staten Island district attorney’s office already has been investigating the episode for possible criminal violations.