ALBANY – A legislative ethics panel has slapped former Assemblyman Dennis H. Gabryszak with a $100,000 fine for “inappropriate conduct” with former female staffers and for “misappropriation” of state funds to help his re-election efforts.
The Legislative Ethics Commission on Friday afternoon posted a two-page notice of civil assessment against the former Democratic lawmaker, saying it concurs with a recent damaging investigation by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics into allegations against Gabryszak.
Gabryszak resigned Jan. 13, 2014, after allegations surfaced of inappropriate sexual conduct aimed at female members of his staff. He was accused in the JCOPE report of subjecting more than a half-dozen women staff members to lewd remarks and behavior, including threatening they could be fired at any time, including for their personal appearance. He was accused by one aide of talking about strip clubs and prostitutes and in another case sending a video of himself in a bathroom stall appearing to receive oral sex.
The Legislative Ethics Commission, a joint Senate and Assembly panel, said it was assessing a $70,000 fine against the former lawmaker for “his course of conduct involving seven female staff members,” another $10,000 civil penalty to misappropriation of state funds used to help his campaign efforts and $20,000 for the “benefit received” of using those state resources. JCOPE, the state’s chief ethics agency, submitted its findings in November to the Legislative Ethics Commission about the allegations against Gabryszak. JCOPE had the legal authority to investigate the former lawmaker, but not the power to sanction him.
The legislative panel in December notified Gabryszak of a hearing for the purpose of assessing penalties in the case. That hearing was later put off until Jan. 26, at which time a lawyer appeared on Gabryszak’s behalf.
In its official disposition of the case, the legislative panel said Gabryszak violated the public officers law “through knowing and intentional conduct” involving the women members of his former Assembly office. The commission said it accepted the JCOPE’s findings that the lawmaker subjected women on his staff to “numerous inappropriate and offensive comments of a sexual nature, offensive videos and photographs and inappropriate physical contact.”
The notice said he also used his official position “to secure unwarranted privileges,” including offering salary hikes and threats of “adverse” employment action “to force compliance with inappropriate requests made by Mr. Gabryszak.”
The notice said Gabryszak also used staff, printers, phones and mailing labels from his district office in Cheektowaga for campaign purposes, an additional violation of the public officers law.
Mark Glaser, the former lawmaker’s Albany attorney, did not return a call or email for comment.
The panel’s notice was silent on whether any information from the JCOPE probe was referred to any other office to determine if any criminal laws were violated.
The findings by the JCOPE investigation were many, including that Gabryszak invited one woman staff member to sunbathe topless outside his Albany apartment. The woman said he also asked her and another staff member to wear “sexy elf costumes” in a photograph in which he would dress as Santa Claus. Another woman said he asked her to sleep with him.
When he resigned, Gabryszak said there had never been any intent to sexually harass any women staff membes and he denied ever requesting that “sexual contact should occur.” He called the conversations with women staff members part of “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.”