ALBANY — The state Joint Commission on Public Ethics has opened up a fact-finding inquiry into a possible ethics violation by Assembly GOP Leader Brian Kolb in connection with what authorities say was the New York's Eve crash of a state-owned vehicle while he was intoxicated, a person familiar with the matter told CNHI Thursday.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the JCOPE staff inquiry was triggered because Kolb may have misused the 2018 Acadia SUV that has been assigned to him in his capacity as the head of the Assembly Republican caucus. The misuse of a state government vehicle is considered an ethics violation in New York.
A JCOPE spokesman, Walt McClure, citing protocols at his agency, would neither confirm nor deny the information, and had no comment on it.
Kolb's office was made aware by CNHI of the JCOPE inquiry, though a spokesman for the Republican leader had no immediate response.
In a December 2018 radio interview, Kolb criticized JCOPE, an agency that has many employees who previously worked for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, as a "toothless tiger."
Three months earlier, Kolb ripped JCOPE in a commentary published by the Daily Messenger of Canandaigua. "His (reference to Cuomo) Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) — the panel that is supposed to be a corruption watchdog — has amounted to nothing more than a facade incapable of making even a dent in the Albany grift machine."
The JCOPE commissioners have final say as to whether the agency moves forward with a formal, full-blown investigation.
Eight of the JCOPE commissioners are appointees of legislative leaders, while six are appointed by the governor, currently a Democrat.
Kolb's status as one of Albany's four most powerful lawmakers is uncertain.
The arrest of the lawmaker who briefly ran for governor in 2018 has rocked the state Republican Party at a time when many GOP lawmakers have been stirring up public opposition to a new bail law that restricts the ability of judges to set monetary bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies.
Advocates for the changes argue the past system was unfair to poor defendants who had to stay in jail while they were presumed innocent, while people with money could be released from custody by getting bailed out of jail.
Kolb has acknowledged his arrest, saying in a prepared statement after he was released from police custody that he takes "full responsibility" for what he called a "terrible lapse in judgement."
One Republican, Assemblyman Kieran Lalor, R-Hudson Valley, is calling for Kolb to vacate his leadership post. So far, only one Democrat, Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara has said Kolb should resign as leader.
While Kolb was arrested in Ontario County a short distance from his home, he will be prosecuted by the Yates County district attorney's office.
Authorities have yet to release the reading of his blood alcohol level at the time of the crash, only saying it was at least 0.08 percent, the threshold for driving while intoxicated.
The penalties for an alcohol-related driving offense are more serious when the intoxicated person had a blood alcohol level of 0.18 percent, which is the New York threshold for the charge of aggravated driving while intoxicated.
Lawmakers are slated to return to the statehouse next Wednesday for the opening of the 2020 legislative session
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com.