Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie ordered an internal probe into why one of his top staff attorneys called a whistleblower to complain about her vote during a confidential Joint Commission on Public Ethics meeting.
Heastie told reporters Tuesday that his lawyer, Howard Vargas, allegedly called a then-commissioner of the state’s ethics watchdog, Julie Garcia, over her vote during a January 2019 meeting, which should have been secret from Vargas.
The panel was deciding whether or not they should launch a potential JCOPE probe into Joe Percoco, Gov. Cuomo’s former now-imprisoned top aide.
“I had an initial conversation with Mr. Vargas to ascertain as to whether he made the call,” Heastie told reporters in Albany Tuesday.
“Once that was confirmed, I reached out to our counsel to the majority and I asked them to interview him and they [will] come back to me on suggestions on protocol as to how to deal with the situation.”
Garcia filed the whistleblower complaint after the conversation with Vargas, triggering an investigation by the state’s Office of the Inspector General in January into who may have leaked information about the supposedly secret JCOPE meeting.
The IG’s office concluded the investigation in October, and said they could not determine how the information got out.
Despite closing the case over the call, it later emerged that the governor, Heastie and at least two of Garcia’s fellow JCOPE panelists were not interviewed by the IG’s office.
Heastie did not rule out the possibility that Vargas could face disciplinary action.
“I need to wait to hear back from counsel,” he said.
Heastie again denied Tuesday that he ever discussed the January JCOPE meeting with Gov. Cuomo and claimed that he “never instructed any staff person to reach out to a JCOPE member.”
Cuomo has denied that he had any “inappropriate” conversation with Heastie.
Vargas could not immediately be reached for comment.
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