Lopez Case Gets the Independent Prosecutor It Needs

NY Daily News
September 1, 2012

Seven days after a legislative ethics committee accused Assemblyman and Brooklyn Democratic boss Vito Lopez of groping female aides, Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hynes on Friday obtained appointment of a special prosecutor.

As an elected official who has been cozy with Lopez, Hynes made the right move. The only question: What took him so long?

As this page noted on Day One of the scandal, Lopez’s alleged conduct quite possibly fits the definition of criminal sexual abuse. Speaker Sheldon Silver spelled out to Lopez what allegedly happened in a letter of censure:

“You put your hand on her leg, she removed your hand and you put your hand on her upper thighs, putting your hand as far up between her legs as you could go,” Silver wrote of one incident.

Silver described another occasion when Lopez forced an employee to join him on a trip to Atlantic City. The woman reported, Silver tells Lopez, “that you attempted to kiss her, that she struggled to fend you off before you stopped and that on the drive back . . . you again put your hand between her legs.”

To quote the penal law:

“A person is guilty of sexual abuse in the third degree when he or she subjects another person to sexual contact without the latter’s consent.” That’s a class B misdemeanor, carrying a potential sentence of three months in Rikers.

Then there’s the $32,000 that Lopez paid in a secret settlement with two staffers who complained of sexual harassment. If that money came out of his campaign account, the payment could run afoul of the election law.

To be clear, Lopez denies the women’s stories. But eight of his colleagues unanimously determined that the women were telling the truth, which was enough for Silver to strip Lopez of his Housing Committee chairmanship and other privileges and perks.

Once those allegations saw the light of day, someone in law enforcement plainly had to investigate. Just as plainly, Hynes was not the guy.

Not after Hynes attended Lopez’s picnic last summer at the Ridgewood-Bushwick Senior Citizens Council — despite reports that the Lopez-founded organization was under federal investigation.

Not after he said at that event, “I know the difference between a crook and others. . . . So Vito is a good guy.”

Not when he has acknowledged seeking Lopez’s endorsement for reelection next year.

The courts — moving a lot more quickly than Hynes did — named Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan, a Republican, to take over the Lopez case.

Let justice be done.