andrew cuomo

BOOK HIM: Andrew Cuomo’s troubles growing out of his $5.1-million book deal for ‘American Crisis’ added a new chapter when a state ethics panel passed a resolution concluding that he had deceived it on matters including his use of state workers on the project and its subject matter, as well as withholding information about the size of the advance from the publisher. The Joint Commission on Public Ethics is just one of the enforcement bodies looking at the transaction.

Now they tell him. The state's Joint Commission on Public Ethics Nov. 16 voted 12-1 to approve a resolution stating that then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo deceived it 16 months earlier by failing to disclose to the panel that "state property, resources and personnel, including staff volunteers, were used in connection with the preparation, writing, editing and publication of the book" describing his efforts to deal with the coronavirus.

Make Him Return Money?

The vote, which came four weeks after an earlier resolution didn't pass because five of the 14 commissioners exited the meeting early, leaving the panel one vote short of the necessary eight to be adopted, opened the door for JCOPE to try to require the disgraced former Governor to repay the $5.1-million advance he received for "American Crisis," which was subtitled "Leadership Lessons From The COVID-19 Pandemic."

An attorney for Mr. Cuomo, Jim McGuire, told the New York Law Journal that he would sue to block enforcement of the ruling by JCOPE.

But the belated action by the ethics panel, which while he was in office seemed so in thrall to the then-Governor that detractors called it J-JOKE, underscored its lack of action after its own rules were violated in July 2020 by the single staffer who provided authorization for Mr. Cuomo to proceed with the book and receive the huge advance.

Under those rules, if JCOPE was not in session at the time an ethics question arose, approval could be given by the panel's Executive Director. Because there was a vacancy in that job, approval could alternatively be provided by the concurrence of two staffers, the panel's General Counsel and its Deputy General Counsel. 

One Recused Herself

But according to the Albany Times Union, General Counsel Marcia Stamm recused herself from considering the issue due to an unspecified possible conflict of interest. Deputy General Counsel Martin Levine gave his approval, but that shouldn't have been enough to allow Mr. Cuomo to proceed with the project.

When JCOPE resumed meeting last fall, it did not intervene, and "American Crisis" was published that October and quickly became a best-seller because of the national popularity the Governor had gained through his daily briefings updating the state's coronavirus cases and deaths while advising viewers how to prevent its spread and outlining what his administration was doing to combat the disease.

Last January, however, State Attorney General Letitia James released a report stating that the number of deaths from the virus of residents of nursing homes and other congregate-care facilities was far greater than the Governor had disclosed to that point. 

The following month, the New York Post reported that the Governor's top aide, Melissa DeRosa, had told state legislators that the true number of deaths had been withheld the previous summer and fall out of fear that President Trump during his re-election campaign would use that number to hurt Joe Biden's challenge to his re-election.

Soon after that, the New York Times reported that two top aides to Mr. Cuomo, including Ms. DeRosa, had arranged deletion, from a state Health Department report released the previous July, of a nursing-home death count that was more than 3,000 above the state's public listing—at just about the time the Governor was completing negotiations on his huge book advance.

Bottom Dropped Out

After that revelation, his publisher, Crown Publishing, announced that there would be no additional printing of the book and stopped publicizing it, causing sales to plummet. The possibility that the Governor and his aides misrepresented the death toll to obtain the huge payment from Crown is among the matters that have been under investigation by law-enforcement authorities and the State Assembly, which also has examined claims of sexual harassment by past and present female staffers that were the subject of a devastating report by two independent probers who were tapped by Ms. James when the then-Governor asked her in March to review the harassment claims.

It was those probers' report, released in early August, that prompted Mr. Cuomo to announce a week later that he was resigning, at a point when it was known that the Assembly Judiciary Committee was close to a decision on whether his conduct warranted impeachment.

His resignation took effect Aug. 24, with Lieutenant Gov. Kathy Hochul stepping up to replace him.

JCOPE, which previously had received withering criticism for its failure to investigate Joseph Percoco—who had served as Secretary to the Governor prior to Ms. DeRosa getting the job—for ethics violations that eventually led to his being convicted by Federal prosecutors on bribery charges connected to the Buffalo Billion, Mr. Cuomo's major economic-development project, Oct. 19 held a hearing on the book deal.

Bought False Assurance

The approval granted in July 2020 by Mr. Levine in apparent violation of JCOPE's rules had been based on a letter from Mr. Cuomo's then-Counsel, Judith Mogul, that stated none of his staffers would be involved in producing "American Crisis."

Ms. Mogul was also a key figure in another controversy regarding the Governor: she was one of two top staffers to whom then-aide Charlotte Bennett claimed she confided to in June 2020 that she believed Mr. Cuomo had been grooming her for a sexual relationship, in the process running afoul of anti-harassment language he had signed into law the previous year.

At Ms. Bennett's request, the two staffers merely arranged her  transfer to another state location where she would not be working in close proximity to the Governor. They cited her request that they not refer her claims for possible legal action against Mr. Cuomo. An attorney later retained by Ms. Bennett, Debra Katz, said that no matter what her client had requested, Ms. Mogul and the Governor's then-Chief of Staff, Jill DesRosiers, had an obligation to refer the allegation to the Governor's Office of Employee Relations.

Ms. Mogul has denied that Ms. Bennett said she believed Mr. Cuomo was grooming her for sex. She resigned her position July 28, less than a week before Ms. James released the report from the two outside probers that set in motion the Governor's resignation.

JCOPE's Early Exits

Less than two months after Mr. Cuomo left state government, JCOPE held its initial meeting to determine whether it had been misled by the then-Governor and his staff regarding the book deal. According to the Times Union, that Oct. 19 hearing, which ran five hours, at its outset was moved into executive session, before the commissioners late in the process came out from behind closed doors to vote on the resolution.

While the vote was 7-2 in favor of finding him in violation of ethics laws, because five commissioners had departed by the time it was taken, that was one short of the majority required for the resolution to be officially approved.

When enough commissioners lingered long enough Nov. 16 to produce the 12-1 vote for the resolution, among its accusations were that Mr. Cuomo and his aides had misrepresented both the subject matter of "American Crisis" and how far along the project was at the time he sought JCOPE's approval, and that he omitted details including how much he was being paid for the book.

In response to the resolution, the former Governor continued to insist that he had not violated ethics rules because the staffers who worked on it, including Ms. DeRosa, had all volunteered their assistance and their work was done outside normal business hours.

Scolds Commission

He accused JCOPE of playing "a political game" and said that its sanctioning him for proceeding with the book based on an improper go-ahead from its Deputy General Counsel alone was unfair because he should not be "held responsible for internal decisions over recusals and approvals made by JCOPE."

State Sen. Diane Savino, in a Nov. 17 phone interview, questioned whether the ethics panel had the legal authority to compel Mr. Cuomo to return any portion of the book advance—$1 million of which he had designated as a gift to his three daughters and another $500,000 of which he donated to the United Way.

"You can't retroactively punish people," she said. "It just reinforces the notion that JCOPE is not an independent body."

Not the Only Misdeed

But Gerard Kassar, the chairman of the State Conservative Party and a longtime critic of the Governor on matters including "American Crisis," said in a statement, "JCOPE is right to rescind former Governor Andrew Cuomo's unholy book deal, but not just for the reason it cited.

"Governor Cuomo's contract with his publisher was being negotiated at the very same time that Mr. Cuomo and his administration were doctoring records to hide thousands of senior-citizen deaths caused by misguided Cuomo policy choices," the Conservative leader continued. "It strains credulity to think Mr. Cuomo would have won this lucrative book contract had that terrible truth been known."

Mr. Kassar's statement concluded, "Mr. Cuomo's use of state resources alone is sufficient to rescind his contract, but there is more to this story and investigations must continue."     

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