New York’s top ethics panel on Tuesday ordered disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo to pay the state $5.1 million in book profits he made on the backs of taxpayers amid the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The extraordinary resolution was approved by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics Tuesday in a 12 to 1 vote.
The extraordinary resolution was approved by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics in a 12-1 vote — a month after the ethics agency voted to revoke its prior approval allowing Cuomo to earn outside income from his book “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID
-19 Pandemic” while he was still governor and New York was in the throes of the deadly coronavirus
The lone dissenter was William Fisher, a Cuomo appointee.
JCOPE rescinded its approval after concluding that Cuomo violated pledges not to use state resources or government staffers to prepare the book. He must pay the money to the state by next month.
The resolution, drafted by commissioner David McNamara, a Senate Republican appointee, said Cuomo now “lacked the legal authority to engage in outside activity and receive compensation in regard to the book” since JCOPE rescinded its approval.
“Gov. Cuomo is not legally entitled to retain compensation … for any form of outside activity related to the book,” McNamara said.
The panel found Cuomo’s book proceeds should be turned over to state Attorney General Letitia James — whose office’s investigative report forced the three-term Democrat’s resignation after substantiating a slew of accusations of mistreatment and harassment leveled against the disgraced ex-governor by current and former staffers.
“It is ordered that by no later than 30 days from the date of this resolution, Gov. Cuomo pay over to the attorney general of the State of New York an amount equal to the compensation paid to him for his outside activities related to the book,” the resolution says.
James would determine to whom the profits would be distributed.
Whether the state can claw back the profits from Cuomo’s self congratulatory pandemic memoir remains to be seen, with some ethics experts questioning the legality, along with the ex-governor.James issued a statement saying, ““We are currently reviewing JCOPE’s vote and determining how best to move forward.”
Cuomo’s office said earlier that he netted about $1.5 million after taxes and expenses for the book last year, with one-third donated to the United Way of New York State and the rest plowed into an irrevocable trust for his three grown daughters.
“JCOPE has exactly zero authority to issue an order such as this,” said David Grandeau, a former executive director of the state’s ethics agency. “All it [the law] says is JCOPE has the right to issue opinions and opinions are like a–holes, and in JCOPE’s case, there’s 13 of them. There’s just no authority to issue it. “
Grandeau said JCOPE is trying to compensate for having “rubber stamped” the book deal a year and a half, deferring the decision to legal counsel Martin Lavine.“When you have bad people running your ethics agency you end up with a governor that can get 5 million dollars by using state resources,” he said.
Fisher, the Cuomo appointee and dissenter, said during a brief debate at Tuesday’s meeting that JCOPE “lacked the authority” to order the former governor to pay back the book proceeds and it had “no basis” to name the AG as the recipient and arbiter of the funds.
But other commissioners, including James Yates, an appointee of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), said it would be counterintuitive and wrong for JCOPE to revoke its approval of the book deal only to let Cuomo off the hook by letting him pocket the profits.
Cuomo’s book deal also is being investigated by James, the FBI, and the Brooklyn US Attorney’s Office. The state Assembly Judiciary Committee’s impeachment report found that Cuomo used staffers extensively to help prepare the book — though he insisted the work was done voluntarily and legally.
Cuomo’s team was also accused of low-balling coronavirus
-related nursing home deaths while he negotiated the book deal, leading to accusations he was trying to look better to make a quick buck off the tragedy.
Nursing home families and advocates who lost loved ones during the worst days of the pandemic applauded JCOPE for belatedly throwing the book at Cuomo.
“I’m super happy. It was a blood money book of lies written off the graves of 15,000 people,” said Tracey Alvino, whose dad, Daniel, died after contracting COVID
-19 in a Long Island nursing home.
“I’m shocked JCOPE threw the book at him. JCOPE did the right thing. We’re used to seeing the little guy trampled and the elite being shielded and protected.”
Alvino continued, “Cuomo has no more political cover. No more friends in Albany. Score one for the team of morals and ethics and everything that is just and right.”
Haydee Pabey, whose mother, Elba died of COVID
at the Isabella Geriatric Center in Washington Heights in April, 2020, said, “It’s a happy day for us.”
“Cuomo tried to make a profit off the deaths of our loved ones. He wrote a self-congratulatory book in the middle of a pandemic. He didn’t fix the problem. He made it worse with his policies. He killed people.”
Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Queens) called JCOPE’s action a “small measure of justice for the families whose loved ones’ memories were trampled on by the former governor.”
“This book deal establishes the criminal misconduct behind his suppression of nursing home data. While our families were experiencing complete panic and despair, this disgraced former governor was carefully crafting his public image in order to maximize his personal profit. Every dollar must be clawed back and given to the nursing home victims’ families for their pain and suffering,” said Kim, chairman of the Assembly Aging Committee, whose uncle died of suspected COVID
-19 in a nursing home.
Cuomo’s lawyer claimed JCOPE’s action was illegal and would challenge it in court.
“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 Cuomo attorney Jim McGuire.
“Should they seek to enforce this action, we’ll see them in court.”