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New York State Attorney General Letitia James has issued at least one subpoena to the state’s ethics agency for all records on disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $5 million book deal, as part of her office’s criminal investigation into the matter.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics — the state’s watchdog panel — in summer 2020 approved Cuomo’s application to receive outside income from the memoir. But critics have ripped the green light as opaque and improper, since it was subject to internal approval by JCOPE staffers, instead of by a full panel vote.
A representative from James’ office declined to comment on the issuance of the subpoena, which was first reported by the Albany Times Union.
Gary Lavine, a Republican-appointed JCOPE Commissioner, would not “confirm or deny what the subject of the subpoena is,” but said it was received “several months ago, at the beginning of the summer.”
“There is a grand jury, otherwise the subpoena would not have been issued,” he told The Post. “The subpoena was served on the commission. However, it has been interpreted to apply to each commissioner individually. In other words, the commission received the subpoena institutionally — I was never served a subpoena but it has been interpreted that the subpoenas apply to each commissioner including me.”
Lavine explained, “There’s a meeting scheduled for Tuesday, and there’s a dispute going on about whether the rescinding of the book approval should be in the public or the private session.”
The criminal probe — first launched in April following a referral from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli — is investigating if Cuomo improperly used state resources for the book’s production, including “the drafting, editing, sale and promotion of the Governor’s book and any related financial or business transactions.”
Cuomo’s office claimed state officials volunteered their time to work on the book during the summer of 2020, but it has been revealed that top staffers like SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras helped edit and fact-check the book, at the request of former Cuomo top aides Melissa DeRosa and Stephanie Benton.
Malatras has maintained he worked on the lucrative book during at least two weekends and took two personal days while off from his then-job former job as president of SUNY Empire State College.
Cuomo’s controversial, $5.1 million deal for his memoir, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic,” includes $2 million in payouts in 2021 and 2022, according to a financial disclosure form made public in May.
The 63-year-old — who announced his resignation on Aug. 10 in the middle of a sexual harassment scandal that led to his likely impeachment — was paid $3.1 million last year, according to tax returns Cuomo released.
But the scandal-scarred former chief executive could be forced to return the royalties gained from his contract if it’s determined that he violated New York law while writing it, according to JCOPE’s top official, Sanford Berland.
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