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State ethics commission blasts Gabryszak for ‘sexually inappropriate behavior’

The state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics late Wednesday accused former Assemblyman Dennis H. Gabryszak of violating the state Public Officers Law with lewd behavior toward female staffers and forcing staff members to spend as much as 80 percent of their work hours on political campaign duties.

The commission said it found that the Cheektowaga Democrat, who resigned from office last year, engaged in one lewd, embarrassing action after another during his seven-year stint as a state office holder.

According to the commission, Gabryszak subjected female staffers to “inappropriate sexually charged conduct and improperly used state resources for his re-election campaign.”

“Mr. Gabryszak acted for the benefit of himself and no one else,” said commission spokesman Walter McClure, after the release of an investigation report that could set the stage for the state to criminally prosecute Gabryszak. “His conduct was a deplorable exhibition of how not to act in public service.”

Among the incidents cited in the commission’s 15-page report:

• More than a half-dozen female staff members were repeatedly subjected to crude remarks and behavior by the assemblyman, who also told them that they served in their state jobs at his pleasure and that they could be fired at any time for any reason, including their physical appearance.

• One female staffer said Gabryszak told her he only hired her because she was “pretty,” and that he would tell her to look up information on his cellphone or iPad, knowing that the devices contained images of nude women and information about escort services.

• Two female staffers said Gabryszak sent them a video of himself sitting in a bathroom stall, “appearing to receive oral sex.”

• A former female staffer who worked for Gabryszak in Albany said he frequently made remarks to her about “strip clubs and prostitutes.” When the woman told Gabryszak she had become engaged, he told her that she “did not need a fiancé” and offered her a $100,000 salary if she would move to his Cheektowaga office.

• Another female staffer said the elected official invited her to “sunbathe topless” outside his Albany apartment. She said he also asked her and a former staffer to wear “sexy elf costumes” and pose for a Christmas photograph with Gabryszak dressed as Santa Claus.

• A woman who worked in the assemblyman’s Cheektowaga office said he once “grabbed her and tried to kiss her.” This former staffer said Gabryszak also discriminated against male job applicants, telling her that he did not want men hired to work in his office. “Absolutely, I want women in these positions,” the woman quoted Gabryszak as saying.

• A female staffer who only worked for Gabryszak for five months said he invited her to sleep with him and made numerous sexual comments, including a claim that he had a tattoo on his private parts and that he was “more of a butt guy than a boob guy.”

• Another former female staffer said the assemblyman repeatedly made lewd remarks about women. She said she voiced her concerns to Gabryszak’s chief of staff, Andrew Locher, who laughed and told her, “That’s how Dennis is.” Another staffer who complained said Locher told her “That’s Dennis, just deal with it,” and advised her to look for another job.

Gabryszak “persisted in this course of conduct, despite the discomfort of some and actual complaints of others,” the commission wrote.

The commission said one of the former employees it interviewed was Locher. The commission said the former chief of staff also described Gabryszak as “engaging in highly inappropriate behavior with female staff.” The commission said Locher tried talking to Gabryszak about his conduct with women. Locher said the assemblyman told him he thought his remarks were funny and told Locher that he was part of the “no-fun league.”

According to the commission’s report, a number of former Gabryszak staffers said that, although they were paid by taxpayers to conduct state business, they spent large portions of their time working on the assemblyman’s re-election campaigns, stuffing envelopes, making phone calls and using state equipment to create mailings for the candidate.

One former staffer said she spent 60 percent of her time on campaign work. Another said that “during a campaign year, 20 percent of the time was spent on Assembly work and the remaining 80 percent on campaigning.”

Gabryszak, 64, left office in January 2014 after several former staffers made sexual harassment complaints against him. He declined to comment on the commission’s report during a brief conversation with a News reporter Wednesday night.

Mark F. Glaser, an Albany attorney who represented Gabryszak in connection with the commission’s probe, did not return two calls from a reporter.

Terrence M. Connors, who represents Gabryszak in state lawsuits arising from the complaints of former staffers, released a statement indicating that a state judge recently “dismissed three of the cases completely and reduced the claims in the other three cases from 80 to two, with instructions for the three complainants to re-plead the surviving two claims because they were duplicative.” 

The commission’s report could prompt a criminal prosecution of Gabryszak’s actions. The investigative report, which found “substantial basis” that Gabryszak committed violations of the state Public Officers Law, is now in the hands of the state Legislative Ethics Commission, a panel of senators and Assembly members who could turn the case over to criminal prosecutors.

“Based upon the evidence established by the investigation, there is a substantial basis to conclude that Gabryszak used his office to pursue a course of conduct that was in violation of his public trust, to secure unwarranted benefits, and to give a reasonable basis for the impression that one could unduly enjoy his favor in the performance of one’s official duties,” the commission wrote. “There is, therefore, a substantial basis to conclude that Gabryszak violated Public Officers Law.”

Shortly before Gabryszak left office, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued a statement calling on Gabryszak to deny the allegations or resign.

In a written statement the day he stepped down, Gabryszak said there was “never any intent on my part” to sexually harass any members of his staff, and he denied allegations that he ever made any request that “sexual contact should occur.”

He said there was no sexual contact with staffers and that some of the allegations made against him are “demonstrably false.”

“There was mutual banter and exchanges that took place that should not have taken place because it is inappropriate in the workplace even if it does not constitute sexual harassment,” he said.

Nonetheless, Gabryszak said he resigned because of the impact the scandal has had on his family “and my concern for the important work of the Assembly.”

News Albany Bureau Chief Tom Precious contributed to this report. email: