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NY ethics panel agains orders Cuomo to return $5.1M for book deal

ALBANY — New York’s ethics commission has passed a motion again ordering former governor Andrew M. Cuomo to repay $5.1 million in book royalties.

And this time, the Times Union of Albany reports, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics is taking a near-certain legal battle with Cuomo into its own hands.

The motion was proposed by Commissioner David McNamara at the beginning of the specially called meeting on Friday afternoon. McNamara detailed the motion, then they went into executive session, where it’s possible there were minor amendments during the confidential portion of the meeting that have not yet become public.

Cuomo says that he will contest JCOPE’s order in court, and will not comply.

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

McNamara told the Times Union that JCOPE is ordering the former governor to repay the millions in book proceeds to the publisher, Penguin Random House, within one month. The publisher struck the 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 recoup the proceeds, as the commissioners prescribed in an original Dec. 14 motion, they have now authorized JCOPE itself to hire outside counsel to enforce the repayment.

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

Following the December vote, James’ office has contended that JCOPE needed to first conduct a full investigation into whether Cuomo misused state resources in producing the book, an inquiry that could take months or years.

When Cuomo sought approval from JCOPE to write the book, his government counsel, Judith Mogul, had explicitly stated that government workers would not be used in its production. State workers were extensively used to produce Cuomo’s book, however, and many JCOPE commissioners believe that misrepresentation empowers them to seek immediate repayment of the $5.1 million.

Cuomo says any staff that worked on the book did so in a “volunteer” capacity and their labor was therefore legal.

Cuomo’s book was conceived when his popularity was running high as the former governor was considered a strong and compassionate leader through the first months of the pandemic. However, shortly after the book was released in the fall of 2020, COVID-19 resurged and the Cuomo administration was under fire over nursing home deaths.