A state ethics board ordered former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday to give up the $5.1 million he was paid for his book about the coronavirus pandemic — a move Cuomo's lawyer vowed to fight.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics, known as JCOPE, voted 12-1 to give Cuomo 30 days to pay the state attorney general's office an amount equal to the money he was set to make from the book, titled "American Crisis: Leadership Lessons From the COVID-19 Pandemic."
The board last month rescinded its previous authorization for Cuomo to write the book after it determined that he had violated an agreement not to use any state personnel or property in producing it and that he had made numerous "material omissions and misrepresentations" about the project.
A lawyer for Cuomo, Jim McGuire, pledged Tuesday to fight the board's latest move.
"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," McGuire said. "Should they seek to enforce this action, we'll see them in court."
The book deal was one of the subjects of a state Assembly Judiciary Committee impeachment investigation, which was already underway when Cuomo resigned amid numerous sexual harassment allegations in August. Cuomo has apologized for some of his behavior but insisted that he had not intended to harass any of his accusers.
The Judiciary Committee found in a report released last month that Cuomo had used state employees to help write, edit and promote his book, despite the ethics board's declaration that "no state property, personnel or other resources may be utilized for activities associated with the book."
"Our investigation evidences that the book was the product of significant work performed by executive chamber staff during a time of a global pandemic requiring an around-the-clock response," the committee report said.
"Certain senior members of the former governor's executive chamber and other senior New York State officials worked extensively on the book," the report said, adding that the "officials attended meetings with agents and publishers, transcribed and drafted portions of the book, coordinated the production and promotion of the book, and participated in working sessions to review and finalize the book."
The report also said that "evidence obtained in our investigation demonstrates that junior members of the executive chamber worked on the book and that work was not voluntary."
Cuomo has insisted that any work by state employees on the book was voluntary, while allowing that may have been some "incidental" minor work. His spokesman, Rich Azzopardi, said last month that "staff who volunteered took time off, evidencing that they were volunteering and not on state time."
"Any suggestion to the contrary is Assembly hype," he said.
Cuomo, who made $225,000 a year as governor, may have problems paying the money back if his planned legal challenge fails. Azzopardi said in July that Cuomo had already been paid $3.1 million of the total $5.1 million he was due and that $1.5 million of it had gone to taxes.
Of the remaining $1.5 million he had at the time, Cuomo "donated a third to the United Way of New York State for state-wide COVID relief" and was putting the rest in a trust for his three daughters, Azzopardi said.