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Who will investigate former staffer's claim against powerful Senate Democrat?

ALBANY — A state ethics agency with ties to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo appears to be the likely choice to look into an allegation that Sen. Jeff Klein, a Bronx Democrat who heads an eight-member breakaway group of Senate Democrats, forcibly kissed a Senate staff member outside a bar more than two years ago.

Klein vehemently denied the accusation.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican, said the Senate would not investigate the case, in part, because Erica Vladimer, the alleged victim, never filed a formal complaint before she left the Senate payroll in 2015.

“While it may be within the scope of other entities, an investigation into this matter is not within the jurisdiction of the Senate,’’ Flanagan said in a written statement a day after Klein outlined the allegation with reporters in a preemptive move just an hour before the woman’s accusation was reported by the Huffington Post.

In a Facebook posting Thursday, Vladimer expressed regret that she did not come forward publicly earlier than now over what she says occurred to her on an Albany sidewalk in late March 2015. She now works for a New York City agency.

Klein was supported by his fellow IDC member, Staten Island Sen. Diane Savino, who says she was with Klein on the night of the alleged incident and that nothing that Vladimer now describes occurred. Klein is also Savino’s boyfriend.

The Senate has an ethics committee, but officials say it lacks the jurisdiction under Senate rules to investigate Klein because of Senate rules and the fact that the alleged victim, now more than two years off the Senate payroll, never brought a complaint.

Former Albany staffer accuses top state senator of inappropriate contact

The Senate ethics committee has nine members — three of whom are part of Klein’s IDC, including Savino. All the members of the IDC on Wednesday night came out publicly and said they believed Klein’s denial. On Thursday, the head of that committee, Long Island GOP Sen. Elaine Phillips, said one possible panel that could investigate is the Legislative Ethics Commission, a joint Senate/Assembly office.

Another, and more likely investigative agency would be the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, called JCOPE, an office critics for years have said is overly close to the Cuomo administration.

Several years ago, the agency did investigate sexual harassment allegations against a former Assembly Democrat from Brooklyn as well as former Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak, an Erie County Democrat who in 2015 was found by JCOPE to have engaged in “inappropriate sexually-charged conduct” with female members of his Assembly staff.

JCOPE does not need the alleged victim to make a formal complaint and it does not need a referral in order to commence a probe of the Klein matter.

A spokesman for the ethics agency declined to comment when asked if officials plan to investigate the Klein situation.

On Thursday night, Klein's office released a letter the senator wrote to JCOPE asking for the agency to investigate the allegations against him.

Senate Democratic leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Westchester County, on Thursday called for an "immediate, independent investigation.''

Klein, Savino and Vladimer all agree that they — along with about 10 staffers from the Senate's IDC payroll — were at an Albany bar on March 31, 2015, to celebrate the state budget's passage. They also agree Klein and Vladimer went outside to smoke cigarettes. The stories then sharply diverge.

Vladimer says while outside with Klein he forcibly kissed her. She left the Senate payroll five weeks later, though Klein’s legal team says she was looking for a new job before the alleged incident.

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