Tuesday, September 18, 2012

State Controller Tom DiNapoli Ducks Responsibility in Vito Lopez Sexual Harassment Settlement Which Makes Him Sound Negligent About the Spending of Public Funds


State Controller Tom DiNapoli’s website declares him “responsible for ensuring that the taxpayers’ money is being used effectively and efficiently to promote the common good.”
How well did he fulfill the mission in the matter of the secret sexual harassment settlement that has embroiled Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Assemblyman Vito Lopez? 

Documents newly released under the Freedom of Information Law reveal that:

 l Bill Collins, attorney for Silver, discussed the situation with DiNapoli’s chief counsel, Nancy Groenwegen, months before it was finalized.

l Collins emailed Groenwegen multiple drafts of the settlement — including names, dollar amounts and confidentiality clauses — that she says she forwarded to attorneys on her staff.

l One of those lawyers did a legal analysis of the deal and proposed changes that were incorporated in later drafts.

l A copy of the final, signed settlement was delivered to Groenwegen before the controller cut a $103,080 check on June 13
Nowhere in these documents does anyone express the slightest concern that Lopez’s alleged mistreatment of female employees is being kept secret from the people who are footing the bill.

Welcome to the go-along-to-get-along political culture that spawned DiNapoli, who was a longtime member of the Assembly before his colleagues appointed him controller on the departure of Alan Hevesi.

As for DiNapoli’s personal role, his office insists his underlings kept him in the dark even as they engaged in consultations with Silver’s staff about a confidential settlement that was designed to shield Lopez’s misdeeds from discovery.

Here, then, are the questions: Which would be worse, that DiNapoli was ignorant, as he states, or that he was complicit, as he denies? And does it make any difference at all?

The secret $103,000 settlement given to two former staffers who accused Assemblyman Vito Lopez of sexual harassment included a penalty of $20k or more if anyone involved talked about its details 

The $20k fine, which could be increased by an arbitrator, was four times the amount that was initially discussed


Former Lopez staffer Leah Hebert, 29, was one of two women who got a $103,000 taxpayer-funded settlement. It included strict financial penalties if either woman talked about any aspect of the deal, even its very existence.


Former Vito Lopez staffer Leah Hebert, 29, was one of two women who got a $103,000 taxpayer-funded settlement over allegations of sexual harassment. It included strict financial penalties if either woman talked about any aspect of the deal, even its very existence.

 ALBANY — The first two women to accuse Assemblyman Vito Lopez of sexual harassment have 20,000 reasons to keep quiet about it.

The secret $103,000 settlement former staffers Rita Pasarell, 30, and Leah Hebert, 29, reached with the state Assembly featured a provision for a fine of $20,000 if they, Lopez or anyone else involved in the negotiations went public about the agreement or the allegations that led to it. Further, the deal included a stipulation for an arbitrator to award damages in excess of the base fine.

The $20,000 penalty was four times what had been considered in an initial draft agreement, and nearly matches the $20,262 payout Hebert, Lopez’s former chief of staff, received. Pasarell, formerly the Brooklyn Democrat’s deputy chief of staff, was awarded $60,786 because, according to emails pertaining to the settlement that were released Wednesday, she had allegedly been subjected to “much more egregious harassment, and over a longer period of time.”

Terms of the final deal were included in a batch of emails made public by the state controller’s office under a Freedom of Information law request submitted by the Daily News. The deal says those involved can only discuss the matter in response to a court order, subpoena or as part of required disclosures to financial or tax advisers.

The emails released Wednesday revealed the office of state Controller Thomas DiNapoli, which had to sign off on the taxpayer-funded deal, was far more involved in the talks than it has let on.

As the Lopez scandal has widened since it broke late last month, DiNapoli has argued his office just cut the settlement check. But emails show staffers in his office pushed for specific changes to be made to language in parts of the settlement that pertained to the payouts and related tax issues. Aides to DiNapoli expressed serious questions about possible tax liabilities and suggested at one point that the controller’s office be given pre-audit authority over the agreement.

Yet William Collins, a lawyer for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, wrote in an Aug. 31 email to Silver chief counsel Jim Yates that DiNapoli’s office ultimately never saw or asked for the final agreement — despite its earlier insistence on pre-audit approval.

Silver has come under fire for approving the deal and for not reporting the allegations to the Assembly Ethics Committee. Sources told The News that Silver has hired a private lawyer as dual investigations look into the settlement.


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