Ethics committee orders Cuomo to pay back $5.1 million from book deal

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ALBANY – The New York Ethics Committee late Friday passed another motion asking former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to return $5.1 million in book royalties. And this time, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics is taking an almost certain legal battle with Cuomo into its own hands.

The motion was tabled by Commissioner David McNamara at the start of Friday afternoon’s specially convened meeting. McNamara explained the motion in detail, then they went to the executive session, where it’s possible there were minor changes during the confidential portion of the meeting that haven’t been made public.

Cuomo has previously stated that he will challenge JCOPE’s order in court and will not comply.

“Another day, another embarrassing display of incompetence by ‘JJOKES’ kangaroo court. We’ll see her in a real one,” said Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi. “Through her political appointments, this is just another example of misusing government resources to harass a political opponent.”

As described by McNamara at the beginning of the meeting, JCOPE is asking the former governor to return the multi-million dollar book proceeds to publisher Penguin Random House within one month. The publisher has inked a lucrative 2020 deal with Cuomo to publish American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Instead of Attorney General Letitia James’ office enforcing the order and deciding how to deal with the proceeds recovery policy, as the commissioners had prescribed in an original Dec. 14 request, they have now authorized JCOPE itself, an outside counsel tasked with enforcing the repayment. While the Attorney General’s office has traditionally been modified with the enforcement of such orders, JCOPE’s commissioners claim they too have that power.

McNamara’s motion left the door open for James to enforce the original December order should her office decide to do so.

After the December vote, James’ office has claimed that JCOPE must first conduct a full investigation into whether Cuomo misused government resources in the production of the book, an investigation that could take months or years.

When Cuomo sought JCOPE’s approval to write the book, his government attorney, Judith Mogul, had specifically stated that no government staff would be used in the production. However, state officials were used extensively to produce Cuomo’s book, and many JCOPE commissioners believe false statements empower them to demand immediate repayment of the $5.1 million.

Cuomo says that all of the staff who worked on the book did so “voluntarily” and therefore their work was legal.

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