ALBANY - For more than 40 years, Robert Freeman served as state government's guide for news reporters seeking access to public records maintained by bureaucrats.

But on Tuesday, state officials suggested Freeman had some embarrassing skeletons in his own closet, including multiple allegations of sexual hassment lodged by coworkers and a trove of pornography on the computer supplied to him through his job as the head of the Committee on Open Government.

The last straw came Monday, when officials said Freeman, 72, was fired after he allegedly harassed a young female newspaper reporter.

COMPUTER ANALYSIS

 

While Freeman's career in state government came to an abrupt end, his problems may not be over.

State officials said the investigation is continuing, noting Freeman's office computer has been sent to State Police criminal investigators for analysis.

State Inspector General Letizia Tagliafierro urged that anyone with information about any instances of sexual harassment by Freeman to contact her investigators.

PUT OFF BY HARASSMENT

Local government officials and good government reformers were among the scores of individuals who interacted regularly with Freeman, seeking out his expertise on transparency and open meetings requirements.

Among them was Susan Lerner, director of Common Cause New York, a reform group.

"We will never know how many young women might have become expert in ethics and transparency issues, but were so put off by Bob's harassment that they turned to other areas," Lerner told CNHI.

"Transparency and accountability are areas where New York needs all the help it can get, and to have the leading authority engaged in this kind of conduct is truly damaging," she added.

WARNED IN 2013

In recent weeks, Freeman provided guidance to New York press outlets on new legislation restricting the public release of mug shot images of individuals arrested on criminal charges.

It was also revealed Tuesday that Freeman, following complaints made against him by state workers, was warned in 2013 he could be fired if such behavior persisted.

That was the same year he was presented with a lifetime achievement award by the New York News Publishers Association for the assistance he has provided to reporters and editors.

On Tuesday, the association announced it was rescinding that award immediately.

"We applaud all of the brave women who step forward to report abuse, and in doing so help to prevent other women from experiencing trauma in the future," the association, led by its president, Diane Kennedy, said in a statement.

'SEXUALLY ASSAULTED'

Freeman's firing was first reported by the Gannett News Service. The alleged victim of the most recent harassment allegedly involving Freeman was identified as a reporter for the Journal News, a Gannett newspaper in Westchester County.

Gannett, quoting from sworn testimony given by the woman June 13, reported that she alleged she was "sexually assaulted" by Freeman while she met with him in his official state capacity.

The woman alleged that Freeman "engaged in conduct that included squeezing her shoulder; touching her waist, back and buttocks with his hand; parting her braids from her face and placing them behind her shoulders; hugging her; and kissing her on the cheek while holding her head," Gannett reported.

Freeman headed a small bureau that operates under the auspices of the state Department of State, headed by an appointee of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Secretary of State Rossana Rosado.

'COMPELLING EVIDENCE'

In a letter to Rosado, Tagliafierro said her investigators "found compelling evidence that Freeman acted in a sexually inappropriate manner with the complainant while engaged in a meeting in his official capacity."

Attempts to reach Freeman at a telephone number he had provided to reporters earlier this year were unsuccessful.

The editor of The Journal News, Mary Dolan, told Gannett: "Since learning of the incident involving our employee, we have worked to provide her with support and assistance in navigating this process. We look forward to learning more ourselves as the investigation continues."

State officials said email exchanges between Freeman and a woman he met at a conference in Syracuse last year included "provocative" sexual images.

Gannett reported that the allegations made by the reporter are being investigated by the Westchester County District Attorney's office.

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com