Speaker Silver mishandled Lopez sex-harass claims, violated house rules: prosecutor
By SALLY GOLDENBERG, BETH DeFALCO and CARL CAMPANILE
Last Updated: 12:17 PM, May 16, 2013
Posted: 2:27 AM, May 16, 2013
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver disregarded house rules by sweeping sexual-harassment claims against Vito Lopez under the rug with a secret settlement that only encouraged the lawmaker to continue harassing female staffers, a special prosecutor said yesterday.
The stunning criticism leveled by Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan, the special prosecutor tapped to lead a criminal probe, was part of a one-two punch yesterday that included the release of a scathing report from the state’s ethics commission, detailing Lopez’s sleazy conduct.
Donovan’s seven-page statement concluded that Lopez’s alleged abuse did not amount to a crime in Brooklyn.
But, he added, “What we found is alarming.”
Donovan noted that two more female staffers filed sexual- harassment claims against Lopez after the initial complaints filed by two others were dealt with in a confidential $103,080 settlement, and were never forwarded to the Assembly Ethics Committee to investigate wrongdoing by Lopez.
“In fact,” Donovan said, “such investigation appears to be mandatory.”
“Unsurprisingly, resolving the complaints in this secretive manner and requiring a confidentiality clause edited by Assembly Member Lopez apparently encouraged him to continue the inappropriate conduct,” Donovan said.
Instead, the actions by Silver and his staff served as cover for Lopez and the Assembly, not to protect the alleged victims, Donovan said.
“The chief concern of those in the Assembly was mitigating the Assembly’s damages,” Donovan wrote. “That goal outweighed any interest in investigating or disciplining Assembly Member Lopez or in preventing similar occurrences in the future.”
He said the request for a confidentiality clause came from Lopez and the Assembly, not the victims.
Lopez paid an additional $32,000 to settle the initial harassment claims.
The separate report released yesterday by the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics mirrored Donovan’s findings.
The long-awaited 70-page report described Lopez as a vindictive pervert who abused, harassed and even threatened the careers of his female staffers.
Among its other findings:
* Lopez used “power and perks” — such as gifts and raises — to manipulate female staffers to put up with his offensive behavior.
* Threatened and punished female staffers who left his office or got other jobs without his approval.
* Misused legislative time by requiring one of the plaintiffs to go on a trip with him to Atlantic City that was not government-related. He was accused of groping the staffer’s thighs during the drive.
* Fears that the first two staffers were represented by celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred and would become sensationalized in the media pushed Silver and his staffers to make a deal and keep the matter quiet.
The report will be sent to the Legislative Ethics Committee, which could slap Lopez with multiple fines of up to $10,000.
State Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox and others called for Silver’s resignation yesterday.
“Sexual abuse is not a partisan issue,” said Cox. “Once again, Speaker Silver has lowered the bar; in this case, he even violated his own Assembly regulations.”
Two of Lopez’s alleged victims spoke out yesterday.
“We came forward and filed a complaint with the Assembly because we wanted Vito Lopez’s harassment of us to stop and to ensure that other women wouldn’t be forced to endure what we went through,” Victoria Burhans and Chloe Rivera, the staffers who filed the third and fourth complaints against Lopez, said in a joint statement.
The JCOPE report reads like a tawdry novel, with details of Lopez’s antics based on interviews with 45 witnesses and a review of 20,000 documents.
The four complainants and other Lopez staffers told the ethics panel that he tried to force them to share hotel rooms with him and even get them to bunk with him in an Albany apartment so he could “cuddle.”
Lopez gave one staffer $150 and urged her to buy and wear a “low-cut blouse” and miniskirts to show off her “best feature.”
At one point Lopez, who has cancer, used his sickness to lure a young staffer. He too her hand and placed it on his neck, shoulder, and armpit to feel his tumors and told the woman “he was dying and he needed her,” the report said.
One of the staffers even recorded Lopez proposing that she move in with him in an Albany apartment so they could be together in “an adventurous way.”
Despite the damning report, Lopez’s lawyer, Gerald Lefcourt, hailed Donovan’s decision not to seek criminal charges as a “just and welcome end to this sad saga.”
Lopez also issued a lengthy statement dismissing JCOPE’s “salacious and sensational” findings as “fallacious.”
Meanwhile Silver’s office issued a statement defending his actions as being taken “in the interests of victims.”
“A full review of the facts by both JCOPE and the special prosecutor has found that all actions by the Assembly were lawful and there was no basis for an ethics complaint against the speaker or his staff,” said Silver spokesman Michael Whyland.
“However,” he added, “as the speaker stated in August, it was a mistake not to immediately refer the initial complaints to the Assembly Committee on Ethics and Guidance, one that will not be repeated. The speaker is deeply committed to ensuring that all our employees are treated with respect and dignity.”
He noted that Silver censured Lopez and stripped him of leadership titles after the Assembly ethics panel concluded that Lopez had sexually harassed staffers Burhans and Rivera, who filed their complaints after the hush-money settlement.
“Given that the JCOPE investigation has found significant violations of the Public Officers Law by Assemblyman Lopez, Speaker Silver renews his call for him to resign,” Whyland said.
The state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics yesterday released its report into accusations of repeated sexual harassment of female staffers by Assemblyman Vito Lopez, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s handling of the complaints. Among the findings:
* Lopez violated the state Public Officers Law; subjected female staffers to “prolonged mistreatment.”
* Two women who received a $103,080 settlement never demanded a confidentiality clause.
* Silver’s staff didn’t refer initial complaints to Assembly Ethics Committee promptly.
* Assembly never investigated initial allegations or took measures to protect remaining female staff.
* Women who tolerated Lopez’s advances were showered with gifts, promotions, salary increases; those who didn’t were berated, threatened.
* Lopez gave female staffers cash to purchase more provocative clothes; required them to send fawning text messages; made staff members massage him.
Read more: Staten Island DA Donovan: Speaker Sheldon Silver mishandled Lopez sex-harass claims, violated house rules - NYPOST.com http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/mr_sleaze_mr_squeeze_ObZxtOasHRaS9YphnmUo2M#ixzz2TXkJXAeK