ALBANY — The state Attorney General’s Office has told the state ethics board that it must provide additional evidence and data before the state can seek to seize the $5.1 million that former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was paid to write his memoir in 2020.
On Tuesday JCOPE said that Cuomo failed to get the proper ethics approval from the full commission to write the book on his leadership during the pandemic and that he improperly used state staff and resources to produce it.
JCOPE then gave Cuomo 30 days to turn over the fee he was paid for the book and referred the case to state Attorney General Letitia James for collection.
But the attorney general’s office on Thursday said JCOPE needs to take several additional "procedural" measures before the office can try to collect. The attorney general’s office said JCOPE must compile a "substantial basis investigation report" or a comparable record of why JCOPE believes Cuomo violated Public Officers Law.
JCOPE also must detail any penalties it plans to assess to Cuomo and must turn over any correspondence that shows the ethics board informed Cuomo or his attorneys of the plan to seize Cuomo’s book fee.
Further, the state Attorney General’s Office said JCOPE must first exhaust its own ability to collect the fee from Cuomo before turning the task over to the office of the attorney general, or OAG.
"It is therefore premature to ask the OAG to begin collection efforts before a demand for payment is made to Mr. Cuomo, or his counsel, and he has had an opportunity to address the demand," said the letter from Larry Schimmel, general counsel for the attorney general’s office. "At the appropriate time, when statutory conditions are met, the OAG stands ready to assist the commission in the lawful discharge of its duties."
JCOPE spokesman Walter McClure didn’t respond to several requests for comment. Under JCOPE’s rules, few statements can be issued without the commission’s approval.
Cuomo is refusing to turn over his book proceeds and denies he did anything improper. Cuomo’s spokesman said the governor secured approval from JCOPE, although it came from a staff member rather than the full board. Cuomo’s spokesmen also said the governor only enlisted the help of state workers who volunteered to help on their own time.
"It is not at all surprising that the lawlessness of JCOPE’s latest unlawful action is being recognized as just that," said Cuomo attorney Jim McGuire. "We remain ready to vindicate the governor before a politically neutral body, our courts."