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Fine against Gabryszak should act as a warning to other elected officials

If ever Western New Yorkers could be relieved to be done with a bad apple, that person is Dennis Gabryszak. The former assemblyman and Cheektowaga town supervisor was driven from office two years ago for reasons that voters were reminded of last week when a legislative ethics panel find him $100,000 for conduct unbecoming a swine.

Gabryszak, whose emotional maturity approximates that of a frat boy, was run out of state office after evidence surfaced that he sexually harassed female members of his staff, even threatening their jobs if they didn’t comply with his piggish demands. Last week, the Legislative Ethics Commission posted a notice of civil assessment against him, levying fines for his misconduct involving his staff members and also for “misappropriation” of state funds to help with his re-election efforts.

There is no word yet as to whether any of this misconduct crossed legal as well as ethical lines, but if prosecutors are doing their job, they are reviewing the record.

Specifically, the Legislative Ethics Commission ruled that Gabryszak violated the public officers law “through knowing and intentional conduct” involving the women members of his former Assembly office. It accepted the previous ethics findings that he subjected women on his staff to “numerous inappropriate and offensive comments of a sexual nature, offensive videos and photographs and inappropriate physical contact.”

Even more disturbing, the notice said he used his position “to secure unwarranted privileges,” including offering salary hikes and threats of “adverse” employment action “to force compliance with inappropriate requests …”

Among those reported requests: Inviting one female staff member to sunbathe topless outside his Albany apartment; asking the same woman and another staff member to wear “sexy elf costumes” in a photograph in which he would dress as Santa Claus; and asking another woman to sleep with him.

In addition, the notice said Gabryszak used state staff, printers, phones and mailing labels for campaign purposes. That also amounts to a violation of the public officers law.

The questions about Gabryszak and his behavior only multiply, but the fundamental one is this: How did he ever think his actions would remain forever secret? Did he think the air of entitlement that pervades Albany would shield him from the consequences of conduct so intolerable? Even if he wasn’t concerned about treating his staff with basic human decency, why wasn’t he more interested in protecting what would have amounted to a lifetime position in Albany, had he wanted it?

One question that remains is whether Gabryszak has leftover campaign funds that he might use to pay the fines levied against him. If so, there might as well not have been a fine, at all.

Clearly, though, even after two years, this episode is not finished. That should count as fair warning to other elected officials who think, somehow, that the rules of decency and law don’t apply to them.

Stay tuned.