The Joint Commission on Public Ethics (“JCOPE”) announced today that it has reached joint settlement agreements with the Legislative Ethics Commission (“LEC”) in two cases arising out of investigations into inappropriate sexual conduct by former members of the Legislature. Former Assembly Member Angela Wozniak and Senate staffer Christopher Savage admitted to engaging in conduct that appears to violate the public trust.
In her settlement, Wozniak admitted that she violated Public Officers Law § 74(3)(h) by making certain personnel decisions related to her Director of Legislation after having engaged in a brief consensual sexual relationship. In September of 2016, the former Director of Legislation commenced a civil lawsuit against Wozniak, State of New York Assembly, Carl Heastie, the State of New York and others in New York State Supreme Court in Erie County; this lawsuit remains pending. Wozniak was elected to replace former Assembly Member Dennis Gabryszak after he resigned from office amid investigations into his own sexual misconduct in the work place. In 2015, JCOPE issued a Substantial Basis Investigation Report with findings against Gabryszak for inappropriate sexually-charged conduct and improperly using State resources for a re-election campaign. The LEC ultimately fined Gabryszak $100,000 in the wake of that investigation report. A former aide to Gabryszak recently settled her civil lawsuit with New York State for $125,000. Lawsuits brought by four other former aides are still pending.
Savage, the former acting Chief of Staff to former State Senator Marc Panepinto, admitted to violating Public Officers Law § 74(3)(h) by trying to dissuade a witness from cooperating with a Commission investigation into allegations that Panepinto made unwanted verbal and sexual advances toward her. Savage admitted that at Panepinto’s direction, he approached the witness, who was a former employee in Panepinto’s office, with a job offer arranged by Panepinto or other compensation to induce her to refuse to participate in JCOPE’s investigation. JCOPE’s investigation had been deferred pending the federal criminal investigation into Panepinto’s conduct. Savage cooperated with the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Western New York which led to Panepinto’s June 2018 guilty plea to a misdemeanor for his conduct. After the resolution of the criminal case, Panepinto settled with JCOPE and the LEC in February 2019, paying a $10,000 fine.