Attorney General Cites Problems With Cuomo Ethics Board Order


ALBANY – The state attorney general’s office on Thursday sent a letter to the New York Ethics Commission, saying the panel did not issue a valid order this week when it voted to have the Former Governor Andrew M. Cuomo is waiving the $ 5.1 million he was paid to write a book last year on his administration’s early handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The 12-1 vote by the Joint Committee on Public Ethics ordered the governor to turn over the proceeds of his publishing contract to the attorney general’s office, which the panel said could then redistribute the funds as required by law – including potentially returning the money to the publisher.

But Larry Schimmel, general counsel for Attorney General Letitia James, said in his two-page letter to Sanford Berland, executive director of the commission, that “there are procedural steps the commission must take before the Office of Collections civilians (of the Attorney General) can take action. “

Schimmel asserted that the referral must be made after the completion of a “substantive investigation report” and detailed any violation of the law on state officials. These findings must also specify the sums of money attributable to any penalties and the details of the restitution.

Commissioners who voted in favor of the ordinance argue that they had the power, under executive law, to revoke an approval of Cuomo’s pound agreement that was made by one of their staff. last year, in part because Cuomo’s claim allegedly erroneously claimed that no state resources would be used to produce the brief. A recent investigative report by the State Assembly Judiciary Committee found that state resources had been misused to produce the book.

If the commission rescinds its order and continues an investigation under the State Civil Servants Act, the burden would rest on JCOPE to prove its case in a process that could take years. Their resolution this week seeks an immediate refund of Cuomo’s book proceeds through a legal route that would require the former governor to prove that his book contract did not violate state laws or policies.

The legal embarrassment will be the subject of a meeting scheduled for Monday afternoon between the general prosecutor’s office and the ethics committee. A person familiar with the matter said several commissioners, who had done extensive research into the matter, should rebut the legal claims made by the attorney general’s office in the letter.

Schimmel said JCOPE’s referral must include copies of the commission’s communications with Cuomo and his attorney, including a copy of the governor’s notice of the determination. He also said the ethics committee must exhaust its own efforts to recover the funds before making the referral.

“It is therefore premature to ask the (Attorney General) to begin collection efforts before a demand for payment is made to Mr. Cuomo, or his attorney, and he has had the opportunity to respond to the demand. “, wrote Schimmel. “Finally, as stated, we understand the intention of the commission to authorize the (Attorney General) to directly collect and spend the monies collected. However, we must adhere to the legal requirements. There does not appear to be any authority. legal order to order the payment directly to the Attorney General or the Attorney General to determine the recipients of these payments. ”

Cuomo’s book, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic,” was also the subject of an investigation by the US attorney’s office in Brooklyn. This investigation examined whether the Cuomo administration deliberately manipulated the number of nursing home deaths in New York City last year in order to elevate the governor’s public figure as his handling of the pandemic attracted a national audience – at a time when the book was in preparation.

James McGuire, an attorney for Cuomo, on Tuesday called the ethics committee’s actions “unconstitutional”, adding that the commissioners’ motives “appeared to be motivated by political interests rather than the facts and the law.”

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