Ethics commission orders Cuomo to repay $5.1 million from book deal

ALBANY — The New York Ethics Commission passed a motion Friday night again ordering former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to repay $5.1 million in book royalties. And this time, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics is taking on an almost certain legal battle with Cuomo.

The motion was proposed by Commissioner David McNamara at the start of the specially convened meeting on Friday afternoon. McNamara detailed the motion, then they went into executive session, where there may have been minor changes during the confidential portion of the meeting that have not yet been made public.

Cuomo already says he will challenge JCOPE’s order in court and not comply with it.

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

As McNamara described at the start of the meeting, JCOPE is ordering the former governor to repay the book’s millions of proceeds to the publisher, Penguin Random House, within a month. The publisher has closed the lucrative 2020 deal with Cuomo to publish “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

Instead of state Attorney General Letitia James’ office enforcing the order and deciding how to handle the directive to recover the proceeds, as commissioners directed in an original Dec. 14 motion, they have now allowed JCOPE itself to hire an outside attorney to enforce the refund. . While the attorney general’s office has traditionally been tweaked to enforce such orders, JCOPE commissioners say they have that power as well.

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

After the December vote, James’ office said JCOPE must first conduct a full investigation into whether Cuomo misused state resources to produce 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 explicitly stated that government employees would not be used in its production. However, state employees were heavily used to produce Cuomo’s book, and many JCOPE commissioners believe the misrepresentation allows them to seek immediate reimbursement of the $5.1 million.

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

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