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Andrew Cuomo ordered to repay $5.1 million from controversial book deal
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Andrew Cuomo ordered to repay $5.1 million from controversial book deal

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ALBANY – A month after retroactively rescinding its approval of a controversial book deal ex-Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed in 2020, a state ethics agency Tuesday went a step further: It has given the OK for the state attorney general to claw back all $5.1 million in proceeds Cuomo got from his publisher.

The former governor was accused last month both by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics as well as the Assembly Judiciary Committee of misusing government resources – chiefly by using state workers to help him write the project about the early stages of the Covid pandemic.

Now, Cuomo has been given 30 days by the ethics agency, called JCOPE, to turn all the proceeds to the office of state Attorney General Letitia James.

Cuomo’s lawyer, in response Tuesday afternoon, said that’s not going to happen.

“JCOPE’s actions today are unconstitutional, exceed its own authority and appear to be driven by political interests rather than the facts and the law," said Jim McGuire, Cuomo's lawyer.

“Should they seek to enforce this action, we’ll see them in court," he said.

The JCOPE board last month voted to reverse a staff counsel’s decision in 2020 giving Cuomo the green light to moonlight as an author, penning a glowing re-telling of his handling of the early months of the Covid pandemic, a time when New York State led the nation in Covid deaths.

The book – “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic” – was permitted so long as Cuomo followed a number of rules, including not using any state workers or state property to write, research or promote the book. The ex-governor also agreed that the book would be “unrelated” to his official duties as governor.

Crown Publishing halted promotion and the printing of additional copies earlier this year following sexual harassment allegations made against Cuomo by a number of female state government workers. Cuomo resigned in August following the publication of a report by James about the allegations and threats of impeachment by state lawmakers.

The November vote by the JCOPE board rescinded the 2020 ethics agency staff approval – which Assembly investigators said came after much of the book was already written – and Cuomo was permitted to apply again now for the ethics approval. If he did not, the board in November opened the door to trying to get back the book profits Cuomo made.

The Assembly Judiciary Committee last month released a 60-page investigation on a number of scandals involving Cuomo, including the book deal. It said he used state resources “to further his personal gain” during the pandemic.

The Assembly panel said senior aides, on state time, helped Cuomo with research and writing, and even met with agents and publishers. The report said one senior Cuomo official sent more than 1,000 emails about Cuomo’s book during a six-month period in 2020.

Among the most damaging allegations, one Cuomo staffer said the book work was taking time away from his Covid response duties. The report said Cuomo’s agent talked with a publisher about writing the book, 10 days before Cuomo was cleared by the ethics agency – and after he’d already had 70,000 words of the book written.

Richard Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesman, said the Assembly Judiciary report noted that top Cuomo aides involved in helping with the book project took time off on their official submitted time sheets for the hours in which they helped the former governor with his book.

He said the Assembly committee report then suggested a new standard, which does not exist in state law, that that state workers could not work on side projects, such as Cuomo's book, even if on their own time. Cuomo allies have noted that lawmakers, and statewide officials over the years, have relied upon government employees – on their own time – to volunteer on campaign-related activities.

JCOPE Tuesday night released a copy of the resolution passed by the agency's board earlier in the day, noting that Cuomo has not in the past month asked for new authorization for the book deal, and that he is not "legally entitled" to retain any of the book's profits. The measure passed 12-1, and does not specifically state where the recovered proceeds, if paid, will be directed. One Assembly Democrat said they should go to families of people who died of Covid-19 in nursing homes last year.

Cuomo has said he placed $1 million from the book deal into trusts for his daughters and that he donated $500,000.

The Buffalo News: Good Morning, Buffalo

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