By Tom Precious
ALBANY -- Here is the statement from Assemblyman Vito Lopez on today's events:
"In July 2012, the New York State Assembly Standing Committee on Ethics and Guidance was tasked with looking into a complaint made by two Assembly employees who worked for Assemblyman Vito Lopez. Ultimately, that Committee looked not only at the claims of those two employees, but also looked into claims made by two other former employees who had received a monetary settlement from the Assembly and Assemblyman Lopez several months earlier.
The Assembly Standing Committee denied Mr. Lopez any opportunity to question the evidence or the witnesses. Having deprived him of this fundamental right, the Standing Committee recommended that Mr. Lopez be disciplined. In response, the Speaker censured Mr. Lopez with harsh penalties: Mr. Lopez was stripped of his chairmanship of the Assembly Housing Committee, his seniority was taken from him, which had the impact of reducing his compensation and staff, and corresponding benefits of office were rescinded. Those were the penalties deemed appropriate for all of the conduct alleged by all four of the complainants.
Yet, despite an onslaught of negative press attention, Mr. Lopez was returned to the Assembly in November 2012 by the vote of the overwhelming majority of voters in his district. Thereafter, a complaint was made to JCOPE, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics. JCOPE was supposed to be looking into whether Mr. Lopez improperly influenced the Assembly to settle the first complaints and also whether the Speaker improperly authorized the settlement. JCOPE found that there was no impropriety whatsoever with regard to those matters. It cleared Mr. Lopez of any claim that he sought to influence the Assembly to settle the claims and it cleared him entirely of any claim that he ever misused funds or other resources of the Assembly.
However, the JCOPE report also rehashes the same allegations for which Mr. Lopez has already been punished – claims which the voters in his district utterly rejected when they returned him to office in November to serve them in the Assembly. Unfortunately, the JCOPE report entirely omits any reference to the evidence and witnesses presented by Mr. Lopez. And once again Mr. Lopez was denied the chance to question the witnesses.
Despite this, the electorate has rejected the claims. They wish Mr. Lopez to represent them. Salacious and sensational claims in the JCOPE report are fallacious. These claims, including that he made sexual references to a 14 year old intern and “opined that statutory rape laws should not exist”, are simply not true. Should there ever come a time when Mr. Lopez is actually afforded the fundamental rights supposedly allowed everyone, the truth will finally be told. Furthermore, the holes in the claims made by these complainants are manifest. Each claim is contradicted by the complainant’s own words; by the testimony of other witnesses; and by common sense.
Among the many examples that show that complainants’ claims are unworthy of belief are these: One complainant, a former chief of staff, claims that she was denied the opportunity to travel to a conference because she refused to share a room with Mr. Lopez. Yet while he was at the conference, she sent him texts, including: “I hope you won big at the casino last night and that you had a great time. . . Next time I hope that it will be me with you and you can teach me blackjack, but you have to teach me all the tricks because I play to win”; and “I had my lucky chip in my pocket all day today so you could win big tonight”.
Among her other communications to him, all at a time when she now claims he was making inappropriate advances to her and she sought to keep the relationship strictly professional, include her telling Mr. Lopez, “I had a really good time with you tonight”; “I really enjoy hearing you laugh and smile”; “I miss you and I can’t wait until next Sunday”; “I can’t wait until this week is over so I can see you”; and “I really love waking up and going to work just to be able to see you”.
Another complainant, a former staff member, claims she agreed to accompany Mr. Lopez to Atlantic City “for fun”, despite his allegedly having made inappropriate advances. Yet the morning of the trip, she texted him: Good morning Vito! I'm looking forward to today! I have the lucky coin ready to go! And though she now says he tried to kiss her and place his hand between her legs on the ride home, she told him the following the day after the trip: Good morning Vito! I was just thinking what a nice night we had being high rollers! One day later, she sent the following: “I'm excited and love this job, I'm going to show you that”. And there were other texts thereafter, including “I'm excited and love this job” and “I love this job”.
One has to wonder what is going on here. Assemblyman Lopez has never sent an email and over the last five years averaged fewer than 10 text messages a year to his family, friends, and workers. The report overly weighs text messaging amongst staff without giving credibility to the provocative text messages sent to Mr. Lopez by the complainants. One should wonder why a full revelation of such text messages is not part of the overall report or factored into the relationships established between him and complainants. Mr. Lopez expected staff to maintain communication with him, (preferably by phone), and also placed priority on a positive work attitude.
More than 18 letters from former staff of Assemblyman Lopez attesting to the quality of work, office professionalism, and staff performance were submitted but not made reference to in the report. There is an all out war against an ailing senior member. One must wonder why the actions in this matter were addressed without due process. Mr. Lopez looks forward to a hearing where all the facts are openly discussed and reviewed. Assemblyman Lopez continues to maintain his innocence and understands the political agenda involved in the one-sided nature of the findings.''