BUFFALO, N.Y. — More than two years ago, then-Democratic state Senator Marc Panepinto abruptly called a press conference to announce he would not seek reelection. He gave several reasons, including the health of his since-deceased law partner and concerns about outside income limits with the Legislature.
"I've got to put my family first and my law family above the voters of the 60th Senate district and be able to refocus my activity back here at the law firm," Panepinto said then.
At the time, Panepinto minimized the impact of a situation surrounding staff turnover in his office but his guilty plea in federal court Thursday seemed to contradict that.
"Today's plea makes clear that this office will not allow elected officials to abuse their position for personal gain and to escape justice," U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy said.
According to the plea, he made a series of unwanted sexual advancements toward a female staffer in her hotel room while the two were at a fundraiser for him in New York City. Panepinto admitted to putting his head on her lap and pulling her feet toward his face and saying they smelled "sexy." He left after the advances were rebuffed although he unsuccessfully attempted to return to the room later.
The staffer subsequently quit and the Senate then-Joint Commission of Public Ethics began an investigation. The U.S. Attorney said what happened next was the federal crime.
"Now, fearing that this JCOPE investigation would jeopardize his 2016 campaign for reelection, Mr. Panepinto directed a senior staff member of his to meet with that female staff member and to offer her money and/or a new employment position within his office if she refused to participate in the JCOPE investigation. In other words, he attempted to buy her silence," he said.
When the cover-up attempt apparently fell through, Panepinto called the sudden press conference, at which he denied any ethics investigation.
He faces up to a $100,000 fine and a year in prison although the prosecution has recommended up to six months.