Former Local State Senator Pleads Guilty To Public Corruption Charge Involving Incident With A Staff Member
CONTACT: Barbara Burns
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BUFFALO, N.Y.—U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr. announced today that former New York State Senator Marc Panepinto, 53, of Buffalo, NY, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael J. Roemer to promise of employment, compensation, or other benefit for political activity. The charge carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul E. Bonanno, who is handling the case, stated that the defendant served as the New York State Senator for the 60th Senate District between January 1, 2015, and December 31, 2016. In that position, Panepinto employed a young woman as a staff member in his district office.
On January 7, 2016, the defendant and the staff member traveled together to New York City to attend a fundraiser for Panepinto. Following the event, the staff member took possession of the donations from the fundraiser. Later that evening, the defendant suggested that he and the staff member go to her hotel room to count the donations together.
While in the staff member’s hotel room, Panepinto made a series of unwanted, verbal, and physical sexual advances which were rebuffed by the staff member. The defendant eventually complied with the staff member’s request that he leave, although he did return to the staffer member’s hotel room during the early morning hours in an unsuccessful attempt to get back into her hotel room. The following morning, Panepinto and the staff member returned to Buffalo together. However, the two did not discuss the events that took place the night before.
Upset by what occurred in her hotel room, the staff member subsequently resigned from her position in Panepinto’s district office. Following her resignation, the New York State Senate conducted an investigation into what had occurred, and, as a result of the investigation, referred the matter to the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) for further investigation.
The defendant was concerned that the JCOPE investigation would jeopardize his 2016 campaign for re-election. As a result, Panepinto directed a senior staff member to meet with the staff member and offer her money and/or new employment if she refused to participate in the JCOPE investigation. It was suggested that the new employment would be political in nature and funded in whole or in part by an Act of Congress. The meeting took place on March 7, 2016, at which time the staff member did not accept or refuse the offer. On March 9, 2016, the senior staff member contacted the staff member to arrange a follow-up meeting but the staff member did not agree to a follow-up meeting. Subsequently, on March 15, 2016, Panepinto announced that he would not be seeking re-election to the New York State Senate.
“While the defendant’s behavior in the hotel room was bad, his efforts to cover-up that behavior constituted a federal crime,” stated U.S. Attorney Kennedy. “In behaving as he did, the defendant not only abused the trust of a young female staffer over whom he held a position of authority, but he also betrayed the trust of those he was elected to serve. Today’s plea makes clear that this Office will not allow elected officials who abuse their position for personal gain to escape justice.”
“Today, Marc Panepinto admitted he directed a senior staff member to promise a financial payment or new employment to another Panepinto staffer if she would refuse to participate in a New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics investigation,” said Gary Loeffert, Special Agent-in-Charge of the FBI's Buffalo office. “Panepinto's admitted criminal misconduct -- behavior that he engaged in while he served in public office -- epitomizes why public corruption at all levels is the FBI’s top criminal investigative priority.”
The plea is the result of an investigation by the Buffalo Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent-in-Charge Gary Loeffert, and the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics, under the direction of Executive Director Seth H. Agata.
Sentencing will be scheduled at a later date.