ALBANY – A state legislative commission Tuesday levied a $330,000 fine against a once-powerful assemblyman accused of groping, intimidating and manipulating young female staffers in a 2012 scandal that is still shaking the Assembly.
The State Legislative Ethics Commission fined Vito Lopez what appears to be the largest fine in Albany history over the sexual harassment claims. The commission found at least 33 “inappropriate actions,” “offensive comments of a sexual nature” and “unwanted physical contact” against at least four women while he was an assemblyman and powerful Brooklyn political leader.
The commission noted Lopez was accused of taking a trip to Atlantic City with a staffer without “legitimate government purpose.” One of his accusers had testified Lopez tried to force his hand to her upper thigh on the trip, among other claims of sexual harassment.
The State Joint Commission on Public Ethics and a special prosecutor had detailed the accusations against Lopez, although the 72-year-old hasn’t been accused of any crime. The Legislative Ethics Commission was acting on recommendations from JCOPE that Lopez violated civil provision of the state Public Officers Law.
There was no immediate comment Tuesday from Lopez’s attorney, Gerald B. Lefcourt.
Lopez has denied sexually harassing anyone. He resigned his Assembly post in May as Speaker Sheldon Silver moved to expel him, and he is now running for New York City Council.
Silver, Lopez and the Assembly were hit with state and federal civil lawsuits last week.
Silver had crafted a $103,000 secret settlement using public money last summer to end the first accusations against Lopez. Soon after, more women on Lopez’s staff accused him of sexual harassment. Silver followed Assembly policy with those complaints, which made them public.
Lopez paid $35,000 in the secret settlement, drafts of which were reviewed by top staff in the attorney general’s office and the comptroller’s office.
The episode threatened Silver’s leadership role, which he’s held since 1994.