Ex-New York governor Andrew Cuomo ordered to forfeit earnings from $7m book deal, United States News & Top Stories


ALBANY, NEW YORK (NYTIMES) – A New York state ethics board has ordered former governor Andrew Cuomo to turn over millions of dollars in profits from his coronavirus pandemic memoir, giving him 30 days to comply or face forfeiture measures from the state attorney-general.

The extraordinary directive is the latest development in a fall from grace for the former governor, who in the span of just four months has lost his office and reputation and is now facing a criminal trial after being accused of groping an aide in the executive mansion.

It was not long ago when Cuomo was at his peak, winning nationwide acclaim and landing a lucrative book contract in the first months of New York’s pandemic crisis.

The resulting memoir, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic”, was intended to capitalise on this moment and give him a nest egg that would safeguard his future.

But by a 12-1 vote, the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) on Tuesday (Dec 14) stripped him of the entire US5.1 million (S$7 million) book proceeds. The board had previously ruled that Cuomo received authorisation for the deal under false pretenses and thus decided that he was not entitled to keep any of the proceeds from it.

The board’s decision rests on Cuomo’s application for approval of the book deal, in which his lawyer vowed that “no state property, personnel or other resources may be utilised for activities associated with the book”.

The commission contended that Cuomo broke that promise when he availed himself of administration officials and lower-paid aides to help him with writing, editing and publication.

The order, which is sure to set up a protracted legal fight, could be further complicated by the fact that Cuomo already donated US$500,000 of the book’s proceeds to a charity, United Way of New York State, for its statewide Covid-19 efforts. He also placed US$1 million in a trust for his three daughters.

The book’s publisher, Crown, had paid Cuomo the bulk of the money, US$3.12 million, last year, of which he netted US$1.5 million after taxes and expenses. According to the contract, Crown was expected to pay the remaining US$2 million in instalments over the next two years, but it remains unclear if Crown will do so after it suspended its promotion of the book following Cuomo’s legal troubles related to nursing home data.

Cuomo has vowed to go to court to challenge the resolution, which seems to have little precedent.

“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,” said Mr Jim McGuire, a lawyer for Cuomo. “Should they seek to enforce this action, we’ll see them in court.”

Cuomo’s use of government resources was a key component in the investigation undertaken by New York state Assembly investigators. That inquiry, which began as an effort to determine whether Cuomo should be impeached, concluded last month.

The report produced by investigators documented deep involvement of executive staff in the book’s creation; one top aide sent or received more than 300 e-mail messages about the memoir last year, while another sent or received more than 1,000 messages.

Cuomo has vigorously denied that he used government resources inappropriately, and members of his team have repeatedly suggested that there is little difference between the staff members who volunteered to assist with the book and the practice of legislative staffers volunteering on campaigns.

At a meeting last month, the state ethics panel voted to revoke the book deal approval that Cuomo had received, offering him the opportunity to reapply for it. He did not do so.

The board directed Cuomo on Tuesday to relinquish the earnings from the book to the state attorney-general’s office and authorised the office to enforce the collection. Only one commissioner – Mr William Fisher, an appointee of Cuomo’s – opposed the measure, citing a lack of precedent and concerns that the board lacked the legal authority to make such a demand.

Commissioner Richard Braun, who voted in favour, explained that the action was a logical next step. “It would be inequitable for us to revoke the approval for the governor’s book deal and for him to still keep the funds,” he said.

It was unclear who would receive the book’s proceeds if they were successfully clawed back. The office of the state attorney-general, Ms Letitia James, would have to determine whether to redirect the money to the state’s coffers or back to Crown, a subsidiary of Penguin Random House.

Whatever the outcome, Cuomo continues to face a series of legal threats after leaving office in August after a report from the state attorney general that accused him of sexually harassing multiple women.

Cuomo is confronting several ongoing investigations by the federal government, which is scrutinising his administration’s efforts to downplay the death toll of nursing home residents during the pandemic, among other matters.

In October, he was criminally charged with groping the breast of a former executive assistant in the executive mansion last year. He is scheduled to be arraigned in January.