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New York ethics commission revokes approval for Andrew Cuomo's 2020 book, setting up potential showdown over millions in proceeds

A New York State ethics panel voted Tuesday to rescind approval of former Governor Andrew Cuomo's 2020 memoir, potentially setting up a legal showdown over millions of dollars in proceeds from the book.

Members of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics voted 12-1 for a resolution stating that Cuomo's July 2020 application seeking approval for his book, American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic," "contained material omissions and misrepresentations."

Cuomo's office said in May 2021 that his earnings from the book, which was published by Penguin Random House subsidiary Crown Publishing, were expected to be about $5.1 million.

The commission has jurisdiction over New York State employees and enforces compliance with the state's ethics laws, in this case payment for so-called "outside activities." In July 2020, Martin Levine, a deputy counsel for the commission, approved Cuomo's request to write and receive payment for the book. 

The commission's Tuesday resolution said the governor's staff indicated in July 2020 that he would "write the book entirely on his own time, without the use of state resources or personnel" and did not disclose that "state property, resources and personnel, including staff volunteers, were used in connection with the preparation, writing, editing and publication of the book."

Gary Lavine, one of the commissioners who voted to rescind the approval Tuesday, told CBS News that the vote means the commission believes Cuomo "was not forthcoming in making his application."

"The applicant, Andrew Cuomo, did not apply in good faith and made omissions of material misstatements," Lavine said.

Rich Azzopardi, a spokesperson for Cuomo, criticized the commission, known as JCOPE, in a statement sent to the media Tuesday, calling the commission "a J-JOKE."

"Our counsel's request to (the commission) was clear, saying 'no government resources' would be used — consistent with that representation, people who volunteered on this project did so on their own time," Azzopardi said. " Furthermore, the Governor cannot be held responsible for internal decisions over recusals and approvals made by JCOPE."

Lavine said the Committee has the ability to demand that Cuomo return his profits to Penguin Random House. 

"That's inevitable, but of course it'll take years because that's how long this litigation will go on," Lavine said. Penguin Random House did not immediately return requests for comment. 

The commission has only once before recouped money from a governor, according to a review of agency data: A judgement against David Paterson for $62,125 after he and his son were gifted tickets to a 2009 Yankees World Series game. Paterson was fined $2,125 for the five tickets and $60,000 in civil penalties, according to agency documents.

Cuomo's attorney Jim McGuire indicated in a statement that Cuomo is willing to take the matter to court. 

"We look forward to vigorously contesting in court any efforts JCOPE makes to enforce this baseless and improper decision," McGuire said.

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