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Internal Rift Over Harassment Scandal Threatens State Ethics Board

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- New York's secretive ethics board made it clear Monday that members did not vote to block the investigation of a sexual-harassment scandal in the state Assembly.

The issue was discussed in a closed-door meeting a week ago, which has shaken the 10-month-old board. One member quit Friday over what he called a lack of independence from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislative leaders who appointed the 14-member Joint Commission on Public Ethics.

On Monday, two board members led an effort to disclose publicly what happened in the two-hour private meeting a week ago. That motion was eventually defeated, but JCOPE seemed ready to move closer to following the state open meetings law by announcing its votes after each session.

``No one would come to this table to protect anyone --- to block an investigation,'' said Commissioner Marvin Jacob, who was appointed by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. ``It's time to dispel it.''

Other commissioners said investigative matters must remain confidential to protect the integrity of the probe and any victims.

``We have to be disciplined, and not overly reactive,'' Chairwoman Janet DiFiore said.

Board members said they were upset with what they called a leak about a decision last week to block an investigation into sexual harassment in the Assembly. Members are prohibited from disclosing information from a private meeting at the risk of being charged with a misdemeanor.

Silver approved a $103,000 agreement in June to end sexual-harassment claims against Democratic Brooklyn Assemblyman Vito Lopez.

A special prosecutor is already investigating the settlement and later harassment claims against Lopez.

The JCOPE board also indicated at its meeting Monday that an internal rift is a threat to the continued operation of the commission.

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(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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