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Cuomo May Have to Forfeit Millions Earned From Pandemic Memoir

ALBANY, N.Y. — Former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo could be forced to forfeit millions of dollars that he earned from his 2020 pandemic memoir after a state ethics board on Tuesday voted to revoke its authorization for the book.

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics accused Mr. Cuomo of essentially obtaining approval under false pretenses, including breaking his promise not to use state resources toward completion of the memoir.

“Contrary to the representations made on behalf of Governor Cuomo and not disclosed to the commission, state property, resources and personnel, including staff volunteers, were used in connection with the preparation, writing, editing and publication of the book,” according to a resolution that was approved by a 12-to-1 vote.

The commission also noted several misrepresentations in Mr. Cuomo’s request for the ethics commission’s approval, including the nature of the book’s subject matter and how far along the project was at the time of the request. It also noted that the full financial details of the deal and contract had been withheld from the panel.

Legal experts said that the governor would most likely have the opportunity to reapply to the board for its approval; if the board rejected Mr. Cuomo’s application, it could order him to surrender book profits or face separate penalties.

In a statement, Mr. Cuomo characterized the decision as “the height of hypocrisy” and “a political game,” reiterating that any staff who assisted with the book project did so on their own time.

Punishing him for relying on the board’s approval was unfair, the statement added, saying “the governor cannot be held responsible for internal decisions over recusals and approvals made by JCOPE.”

A lawyer for Mr. Cuomo, Jim McGuire, said that he was looking “forward to vigorously contesting in court any efforts JCOPE makes to enforce this baseless and improper decision.”

Mr. Cuomo had asked the state ethics panel in July 2020 for permission to write a book about his leadership during the crisis, just as New York began to slowly emerge from the brutal first wave of the pandemic. A staff member at the commission reviewed the request and issued an authorization; no vote was taken.

For Mr. Cuomo, who resigned in August, the book was a way to capitalize on the national fame he earned after New York became the epicenter of the pandemic.

For months, Mr. Cuomo refused to divulge how much he had been paid by his publisher, Crown, even as investigators scrutinized whether he had illegally used state resources to write and promote the book.

That changed in May, when his financial disclosures became public, showing he was expected to earn more than $5 million from the book. He received $3.12 million last year and was supposed to be paid another $2 million over the next two years, state officials said at the time.

His spokesman has said that Mr. Cuomo netted about $1.5 million from the payment last year, after taxes and expenses; he donated $500,000 to charity and placed the remainder in a trust for his three daughters.

Credit…Crown, via Associated Press

The state attorney general’s office is investigating Mr. Cuomo’s use of state resources for the writing and editing of his book. The New York Times and others have reported that top aides were involved with the production of the manuscript, even attending meetings with the publisher — a possible violation of state law that forbids the use of public resources for personal gain.

“I would think that if he does apply again, he’s going to have to make a showing that there won’t be a violation of the use of state resources law, which, since the book is already written, and did violate that provision, should be very hard to do,” said Evan Davis, a former counsel to Mario Cuomo and former president of the New York City Bar Association.

Mr. Cuomo’s 320-page memoir has also come under fire because he began to work on it just as his most senior aides rewrote a key report from the state Health Department to obscure the true number of fatalities in nursing homes during the pandemic.

Indeed, a State Assembly investigation is looking at whether there was any link between his administration’s undercounting of nursing home deaths and his attempt to use the book to burnish his image as a hero during the pandemic.

The book, titled “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons From the Covid-19 Pandemic,” turned into a headache for Crown earlier this year as Mr. Cuomo became engulfed in other scandals, including sexual harassment allegations that led to his resignation.

It became a commercial disappointment and, in March, Crown canceled the promotion and any plans for a paperback version, raising questions about whether the publisher would pay out the governor’s full advance. At the time, Crown cited an ongoing investigation by federal prosecutors into Mr. Cuomo’s handling of nursing home data as the reason to pause “active support” of the book.

Crown did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

This is the third time that the commissionwhich has been the subject of broad scrutiny, with Gov. Kathy Hochul saying that she’d like to “blow [it] up” and begin anew — has attempted to rescind its prior approval of Mr. Cuomo’s request.

State Senator Liz Krueger, who has been a proponent of ethics reform, cautioned that the decision Tuesday should not be read as a vindication of the board.

“In order for it to ever work, first the governor has to step down, you put the right people in place, and then you have to try three times before they get it right?” Ms. Krueger asked.

“This does nothing to convince me that JCOPE doesn’t need to be scrapped and started again.”

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