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New York ethics panel wants former Gov. Cuomo to turn in the cash from his book deal

A lawyer for the former New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, says he will fight demands by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics to collect profits from <em>American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.</em>
Richard Drew
A lawyer for the former New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, says he will fight demands by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics to collect profits from American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.

When former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo set out to pen his latest memoir, he promised it would have nothing to do with the ins and outs of his role as the state's leader. He also pledged to write it on his own time and without tapping into any of the state's vast resources.

But New York's Joint Commission on Public Ethics says that's not at all what happened and on Tuesday, the commission voted overwhelmingly to require Cuomo to turn over proceeds from the 2020 book, American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic. Cuomo's book deal is reported to be worth more than $5 million.

Members voted 12 to 1, spokesman Walter McClure told NPR.

The resolution states Cuomo has 30 days to return "an amount equal to the compensation paid to him" for the memoir. And, if he fails to make a timely payment, "enforcement of such order is hereby referred to the Attorney General."

Meantime, Cuomo's lawyer has vowed to fight the ethics commission's collections demands.

"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," Jim McGuire, a lawyer for the disgraced governor said in a statement. "Should they seek to enforce this action, we'll see them in court."

The book deal came under scrutiny by the Attorney General's Office after allegations first surfaced that Cuomo had improperly used state resources for the project, following reports that some of his top aides and staffers had participated in fact-checking sessions at the Governor's Mansion in Albany.

In November, the ethics commission ruled that he had violated the terms of the agreement and revoked their approval. They determined the governor had used state property as well as personnel and staff volunteers in the preparation and writing of the book. They also said the published book is not in compliance with terms under which he sought their approval; the memoir as initially pitched by Cuomo was supposed to be broadly about his life in politics, but instead it "is substantially related to his job responsibilities."

According to the commission, Cuomo also misrepresented where he was in the process of writing and selling the book when he first approached the JCOPE for its approval. In his application for approval, Cuomo indicated he was "seeking to author a book in the very near future." But in reality, "the Book was completed or substantially completed prior to the issuance of the Conditional Approval Letter," the commission says. Additionally, Cuomo had also withheld information that he had already finalized the financial and payment terms of the book deal he had negotiated.

Cuomo was initially cagey about how much he'd been paid by Crown Publishing Group, an imprint of Random House, saying he'd reveal the amount in his annual financial disclosure forms. According to The New York Times, he had an agreement to be paid just over $5.1 million in total, including an initial payment of $3.12 million in 2020.

After taxes and expenses, theDemocrat & Chronicle reports, Cuomo's net income of that was about $1.5 million last year. And much of that is already gone. The newspaper reports Cuomo donated $500,000 to the United Way and "put the remaining $1 million in a trust for his daughters, according to documentation provided by his office."

It is unclear how JCOPE plans to recoup that money.

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Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.