Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been ordered to pay $5.1 million to the state attorney general’s office after he made use of state resources to author a book on the COVID-19 pandemic.
The state Joint Commission on Public Ethics voted Tuesday to revoke Cuomo’s book proceeds, granting Attorney General Letitia James the authority to enforce the order if Cuomo doesn’t comply within 30 days. Tuesday's ruling is the latest in a series of setbacks for Cuomo since he resigned in August, following a damning report from James' office detailing a slew of sexual harassment allegations against the ex-governor.
The ethics board voted 12-1 in favor of the resolution, ruling Cuomo was not “legally entitled” to any profits. The vote came a month after the board rescinded a prior approval for the book, which required Cuomo to avoid using any state resources whatsoever on the project.
Cuomo, who remains under investigation for a variety of alleged misdeeds, has vowed to fight the latest order. His attorney, Jim McGuire, called it an illegal overreach.
“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 in a statement. “Should they seek to enforce this action, we’ll see them in court.”
In the summer of 2020, Cuomo struck a lucrative, seven-figure deal with The Crown Publishing Group to publish a book on his handling of the early days of the COVID pandemic. It resulted in a memoir called American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic, which briefly spent time on The New York Times Bestsellers List.
But Cuomo has faced frequent criticism for making extensive use of his top staffers to help edit the project, including several members of his inner circle who spent two weekends at the Executive Mansion alongside a representative from his publishing company.
Last month, the state Assembly Judiciary Committee concluded Cuomo did “utilize state property and resources” to pen the memoir. In an impeachment report, attorneys for the committee wrote that Cuomo used “work by Executive Chamber staff, to write, publish, and promote his Book regarding his handling of the COVID-19 crisis — a project for which he was guaranteed at least $5.2 million in personal profit.”
The report found Cuomo’s junior staffers were also required to devote time to the book in the course of their regular work schedule, and that the book work was “not voluntary.”
One senior staffer, meanwhile, served as Cuomo’s point person with his publisher, sending or receiving more than 1,000 messages about the project, often during work hours, according to the report.
Cuomo’s spokesman, Rich Azzopardi, has repeatedly said Cuomo’s senior staff worked on the book project on their own time, while any work by junior staffers was “incidental.”
Under JCOPE’s resolution, Cuomo will be required to pay back “an amount equal to the compensation paid to him for his outside activities related to the book.”
According to his tax records and financial-disclosure forms, Cuomo was due a total of $5.1 million as part of the book deal. He was paid about $3 million in 2020, of which he netted about $1.5 million. He gave $500,000 to the United Way and put $1 million in a trust for his daughters.
Crown was due to pay Cuomo the remaining $2 million in 2021 and 2022, according to his disclosure form.
James’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Under JCOPE’s resolution, it would be up to her to decide whether to keep the money for the state or return it to Crown, a subsidiary of Penguin Random House.