From the Morning Memo:

Federal court documents confirmed a long-reported Joint Commission on Public Ethics Investigation into former state Sen. Marc Panepinto regarding accusations of unwanted sexual advances toward a female staffer.

Panepinto pleaded guilty to attempting to cover up the incident by directing another staffer to offer the young woman money and/or a job in exchange for not participating in the investigation. The Buffalo Democrat will face sentencing at a later date, and could receive up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine, although prosecutors have recommended a lesser sentence.

Despite the plea, there has been no conclusion to the now more than two-year-old investigation. Meanwhile, the commission has cleared former Empire State Development official Sam Hoyt of wrongdoing in an investigation that lasted a fraction of the time.

After the Hoyt decision, several observers questioned why the Panepinto decision has taken so long. A spokesperson for JCOPE responded late yesterday that it could not comment on any pending or potential investigation without a vote from the commission giving him the authority to do so.

The penalty, under state law, is a misdemeanor. However, the spokesperson referred Capital Tonight to a statement made by JCOPE Chairman Michael Rozen back in March 2018. What he said remains relevant.

“I would like to remind everyone that no conclusions can be, or ever should be, drawn from the commission’s silence when it is asked whether an investigation is possible, commenced or finished,” Rozen said at the time. “To divulge such information is a crime.”

“The commission has not responded to questions when it has been actively conducting investigations, or when federal prosecutors have asked it to ‘stand down’ – meaning step aside in investigating matters until criminal trials and appeals arising out of trials have concluded.”

“In short, silence in the face of these questions is mandated by law, but does not indicate action or inaction on the part of the Commission. No conclusions should be inferred by the commission’s silence.”

The details to which Panepinto admitted in his guilty plea would suggest wrongdoing by a sitting state legislator. He admitted to making a series of sexual advances toward the young woman in her hotel room while the two were traveling for a New York City fundraiser for his campaign in 2016.

Among the things he confessed to: Putting his head in her lap, and pulling her feet toward him and saying they smelled “sexy.”