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Cuomo ‘disappointed’ Panepinto involved in ‘sordid affair’

ALBANY – Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo checked in on the swirl surrounding State Sen. Marc C. Panepinto on Tuesday, saying that someone should run for the 60th District seat “who will respect the position.”

The governor’s remarks during a visit to Niagara Falls came hours after the state’s main ethics agency authorized officials to commence “substantive basis” investigations into possible violation of state laws.

Whether either of those two probes involves Panepinto is uncertain.

“I can’t discuss any investigation whether or not there is an investigation,” said Walter J. McClure Jr., a spokesman for the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or JCOPE.

The Buffalo News last week reported that the commission had begun a preliminary review to determine where there was evidence to open a full investigation of complaints regarding undisclosed problems in Panepinto’s Senate office. Panepinto, 51, announced last week that he would not seek re-election to a second term this fall, acknowledging “personnel” problems in his office.

In an interview with The News last week, the Buffalo Democrat declined to comment on any specifics about what those problems might entail. But he did say he fired his chief of staff the week prior, on the same day another member of his staff resigned. Two other staff members resigned in December.

Panepinto was asked Tuesday as he headed into the Senate session, whether either of the JCOPE matters involves his office.

“I have no idea,” the senator said.

The ethics agency must notify potential targets of an investigation within 15 days of a vote to authorize a substantive investigation. The JCOPE board met briefly in public Wednesday but closed down the meeting for an executive session.

Panepinto declined to comment Tuesday when asked whether he had hired Albany attorney Mark F. Glaser, a former top ethics lawyer for the Assembly. Glaser, who recently represented former Democratic Assemblyman Dennis H. Gabryszak, of Cheektowaga, in a case involving complaints of inappropriate sexual behavior, also declined comment when asked Monday night whether he is representing Panepinto.

Cuomo was asked about the Panepinto matter Tuesday afternoon in the Falls.

“I don’t know what the whole situation is. From the sound of it, I don’t want to know what it is,” the governor said.

Cuomo then added: “I am very disappointed when a person who runs for office and holds themselves out to be trusted by their community winds up involved in a sordid affair. So, I don’t know the details. I don’t want to know the details. But let somebody else run who will respect the position.”

Asked about the term “sordid affair,” a Cuomo spokesman said later that the governor was referring to accounts about the Panepinto situation in The News and other media.

“I have no knowledge of the governor’s comments, so I don’t know how to respond to that,” Panepinto said a short time later.

Without breaking his quick pace into the Senate Chamber, Panepinto was asked whether he wanted to discuss anything.

“No, we talked last week. I’m good,” he said.

Last week, the senator left Albany for two session days to head back to Buffalo. He returned to the State Capitol on Monday. But he did not make it in time for the Senate session.

The rules of the Senate, though, allowed Panepinto to be reported as “present” because he checked himself in at the Capitol by 5 p.m. Under Senate rules, Panepinto was able to collect a per-diem payment after the session had concluded and to cast a vote on 14 bills approved earlier in the afternoon by his colleagues.

He voted yes on all 14, including measures to strengthen penalties for leaving a child younger than 8 unattended in a car, leaving the scene of an accident, and committing lewd acts on public transportation.

Panepinto was scheduled to host a fundraiser for his campaign Monday night at an Albany restaurant, with ticket prices starting at $500. After his decision not to run for re-election and with lobbyists not about to spend money on a departing lawmaker, the gathering was canceled.