ALBANY – New York’s ethics watchdog agency on Tuesday ordered former Gov. Andrew Cuomo to repay to the state the proceeds he received from his $5 million book deal last year to write about his response to COVID-19 pandemic.
The unprecedented move by the state Joint Commission on State Ethics comes a month after it rescinded its approval of his lucrative book deal after investigators found he flouted the terms of the agreement by using staff and state resources to help him craft it.
The board voted 12-1, a commission spokesman said, to authorize the state Attorney General’s Office to seek the return of proceeds the disgraced former Democratic governor got from the book, which briefly made it on the New York Times best-seller list last fall.
The book was authored at the height of Cuomo’s popularity as he held daily, nationally televised COVID briefings. But his star soon fell amid sexual harassment allegations against him by former aides that led to his resignation last August.
Late last month, the Assembly Judiciary Committee released its own investigation into Cuomo’s actions that found he used state resources and property to help write the book, which would be a violation of state law.
Public Officers Law violations can be punished by a fine of up to $10,000 and the value of any “compensation or benefit received as a result of such violation.”
An attorney for Cuomo blasted JCOPE’s bipartisan vote.
“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,” attorney Jim McGuire said in a statement.
“Should they seek to enforce this action, we’ll see them in court.”
How much Cuomo would have to return is uncertain.
Cuomo’s tax return in May showed Crown Publishing Group paid him $3.1 million in 2020, and he was due as much as $2.15 million this year.
Another complicating factor is what he already did with some of the money.
While Cuomo’s net book income after taxes and expenses was about $1.5 million last year, he donated $500,000 to the United Way and put the remaining $1 million in a trust for his daughters, according to his office at the time.
Joseph Spector is the Government and Politics Editor for the USA TODAY Network’s Atlantic Group, overseeing coverage in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. He can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter: @GannettAlbany