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District Attorney Charles Hynes wants the state to assign a special prosecutor to investigate sexual harassment claims against Assemblyman Vito Lopez — because the soon-to-step-down Democratic party boss helped him get elected.
Hynes got the support of the Lopez-run Kings County Democratic party in 2009 and expects to get it again next year, so he wants an unbiased district attorney to determine whether criminal charges should be filed against the embattled Bushwick politician rather than conducting an investigation himself.
The borough’s top prosecutor says he requested a special prosecutor after a member of the Assembly’s Committee on Ethics confirmed that some of the complaints against Lopez — who allegedly groped, attempted to kiss, and tried to start sexually charged discussions with staffers — took place in Brooklyn.
“It is appropriate to commence a preliminary assessment of these reported allegations,” Hynes said in a court filing. “The results of such an assessment may trigger the need for further action, including the opening of a formal investigation and the filing or referral of charges.”
Lopez did not return calls for comment.
But Brooklyn Heights district leader Jo Anne Simon — one of the contenders to replace Lopez as party boss — says the politically connected prosecutor made the right move by calling for an outside district attorney.
“It’s very clear that there’s a lot of trouble here, in terms of both civil liability and criminal liability,” said Simon. “Enough has come out already that it warrants an investigation.”
Calling in outside help is a change for Hynes, who prosecuted disgraced former party boss Clarence Norman himself when the shamed Democratic honcho faced corruption charges.
Last week, the Assembly’s Ethics committee demoted and censured Lopez, cutting his budget, stripping him of his coveted position as chairman of the Housing Committee, and eliminating the perks he gained through his seniority after staffers complained about indiscretions including attempted kisses, unwanted advances, and mandated love letters expressing their gratitude to the party boss.
Before this latest round of alleged harassment became public, the Assembly secretly paid out $103,000 of taxpayer money to staffers who accused Lopez of misconduct — while the party boss himself shelled out $32,000 out of pocket to settle claims.
Though he is giving up his influential post atop the borough’s Democratic party, Lopez will remain on the ticket for his Assembly seat and will run unopposed in a Sept. 13 primary.
©2012 Community Newspaper Group
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