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Andrew Cuomo ordered to return millions in book proceeds

Cuomo ordered to return millions in book earnings
Andrew Cuomo ordered to return millions in book earnings 00:27

Andrew Cuomo must return millions of dollars in proceeds from a memoir published while he was governor of New York, a state ethics panel voted Tuesday.

Members of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics voted 12-1 for a resolution giving Cuomo 30 days to turn the money over to the New York State Attorney General. Cuomo's office said in May 2021 that his earnings from the book, "American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic," were expected to be about $5.1 million.

It was not immediately clear if the ethics committee expected book proceeds to ultimately land in state coffers or be returned to the book's publisher, Penguin Random House, which is a subsidiary of Crown Publishing.

Jim McGuire, an attorney for Andrew Cuomo, said Cuomo will challenge Tuesday's decision. Given how uncommon the situation is, a lawsuit would likely lead to a long legal battle.

"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," McGuire said. "Should they seek to enforce this action, we'll see them in court."

The panel previously voted on November 16 to rescind a 2020 approval of Cuomo's book. 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. 

Tuesday's sanction is by far the largest penalty imposed by the committee's in its decade-long history. Roughly half of its fines are for $1,000 or less, and the highest penalty its ever previously leveled was a $330,000 judgement against former New York State Assembly Member Vito Lopez, who had been accused by two staffers of sexual harassment.

The commission's November 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 at the time that the vote meant the commission believed Cuomo "was not forthcoming in making his application."

Cuomo's team has denied the former governor was dishonest with the committee.

"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," spokesperson Rich Azzopardi told CBS News in November. " Furthermore, the Governor cannot be held responsible for internal decisions over recusals and approvals made by JCOPE."

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