Ethics chair makes last-ditch push to force Cuomo to refund book profits

ALBANY — As the New York Ethics Commission mulls a new strategy to coerce the ex-governor. Andrew M. Cuomo must repay $5.1 million in book royalties as its president makes a last-ditch effort to get state Attorney General Letitia James to act after months of resistance from her office.

Jose Nieves, the chairman of the Joint Public Ethics Commission, sent a letter to James on Thursday again asking his office to enforce a JCOPE order requiring Cuomo to return the royalties, according to a person familiar with the matter. from writing his 2020 book, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

Nieves’ letter comes as JCOPE commissioners are due to hold a special meeting on Friday. Before the meeting, a draft resolution is circulated among the commissioners who could vote on it during the meeting.

Under the proposed new plan, the JCOPE would issue an order requiring the former governor to promptly return the money to the book publisher, Penguin Random House. And instead of James’ office enforcing the order and deciding how to handle the sum, as the commissioners ordered in an original Dec. 14 motion, they would potentially hire a special counsel to enforce the refund.

Following that December vote, James’ office argued that JCOPE must first conduct a full investigation into whether Cuomo misused state resources to produce the book, an investigation that could last months or years. Despite a series of correspondence and conference calls over the past three months, ethics commissioners and James’ office have remained at an impasse.

In his letter to James, Nieves allegedly wrote that JCOPE possessed the legal power to enforce a repayment order itself, but did not itself possess the “legal resources” to proactively prevent Cuomo from “unjustly” enriching himself. “.

While the ethics commission may not have the legal resources to fight Cuomo in court, the commission could retain outside counsel, although this could be costly for taxpayers and would require the Consent of Office of State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

Nieves did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on Thursday. It’s unclear whether his letter to James could delay a Friday vote on the outstanding resolution that proposes cutting James from the process.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general said her office had received the letter and was reviewing it.

The standoff has frustrated a number of commissioners who believe the attorney general is wrong about the need for a full investigation.

When Cuomo sought JCOPE’s approval to write the book, his government attorney, Judith Mogul, explicitly stated that government employees would not be used in its production. Still, state employees were heavily used to produce Cuomo’s book, and many JCOPE commissioners believe the misrepresentation allows them to seek immediate reimbursement of the $5.1 million.

For his part, Cuomo says all the staff who worked on the book did so as “volunteers” and therefore their work was legal. The former governor has promised to fight JCOPE in court if he continues to seek reimbursement.

James’ office also declined to investigate another priority of some commissioners: the 2019 leak of confidential commission information to Cuomo. Six months after the commissioner referred the case to James’ office, there is no indication the attorney general has taken any steps to review the potential criminal offence.