NEW YORK — Assemblyman Vito Lopez, who was accused of groping young female staff members, will not be criminally charged for sexual harassment.
Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan, who served as special prosecutor for the case, wrote in a statement released on Wednesday morning that his investigation did not find Lopez’s alleged harassment of two female staff members rose to the level of a criminal offense.
“Certainly, what we found is alarming,” he wrote. “However, based on our investigation, there is no basis upon which to conclude that a chargeable crime was committed within the confines of Kings County.”
He left open the possibility that criminal charges may be pursued outside of Brooklyn.
Many instances highlighted in an ethics report released detail inappropriate behavior between Lopez and staffers that took place in Albany or during out-of-town trips.
The Assembly paid out more than $100,000 in taxpayer money to settle the case, which Speaker Sheldon Silver later admitted was a mistake, but Donovan’s investigation did not find any criminality in the payout.
“I concluded that the manner in which the settlement was reached and the payment was made did not implicate any criminal conduct,” Donovan wrote in his statement.
“Nevertheless, it must be emphasized that the manner in which these entities dealt with the allegations fell short of what the public has the right to expect.”
The report details seven female staff members who claimed to be harassed by Lopez since 2010. Lopez allegedly told several women to wear low-cut blouses and high heels, and even gave money to some to buy a new wardrobe.
The nearly 70 page report also details how Lopez acted inappropriately toward staff members, giving one of them pink eye after pressuring her to put drops in his infected eye. He would also ask other employees repeatedly for massages and asked one staffer to spend the night with him in a hotel.
Lopez allegedly told one employee that he was dying and "needed her," and made her touch tumors on his neck, shoulder and armpit.
On another occasion, Lopez pressured a staffer to massage his hand, even after she told him she was raped in college and his behavior was particularly troubling to her.
Even after that, Lopez kept asking for a massage, saying it was "therapy" to him. When she started to massage his hand, she started to cry and Lopez responded by saying "I like that you’re holding my hand," according to the report.
Eventually the staffer began crying harder and Lopez ended the massage.
"So you’re gonna cry cuz you’re doing this, stop," Lopez reportedly said, according to the report.
Former staffers told investigators that Lopez made them write daily text messages and notes praising him and describing how much they enjoyed working for him. Another staffer said she was repeatedly groped by Lopez, and two began recording conversations they had with him.
Lopez also allegedly booked one hotel room on out-of-town trips to pressure the female staff members to share the room with him, the report said.
The report also details texts and conversations Lopez had with staffers, including asking a male college intern if he would like to date a 14-year-old female intern.
"When the male intern indicated that relationship would not be appropriate, Lopez opined that statutory rape laws should not exist," the report said.
In his statement, Donovan slammed the Assembly’s handling of the settlement with the staffers because of a confidentiality clause he said was put in mainly to protect Lopez.
The settlement prohibited the former staff members from discussing the dispute and making any disparaging remarks about their time employed by Lopez, Donovan wrote.
“Instead, my investigation revealed that during the mediation and negotiation of a settlement, 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. The desire to shield the Assembly led to the negotiation of a settlement agreement contingent on a confidentiality provision, one crafted at the request not of the complainants but of Assembly Member Lopez.”
Donovan criticized the state Attorney General and Comptroller, who knew about the settlement and payment, for not raising any objections about the confidentiality clause.
The allegations against Lopez, first reported last summer, led the Assembly to strip Lopez of his powerful chairmanship of the Housing Committee and prompted him to step down from his post as Brooklyn Democratic Leader, which he had held for seven years.