Too fun to check: Could New York force Cuomo to fork over his $5 million book advance?

Too fun to check: Could New York force Cuomo to fork over his $5 million book advance?

I want to believe. And while this seems like a long reach, especially with a legislature that has punted on Andrew Cuomo more often than the New York Jets in a typical season, it’s still technically possible. The state of New York could seize the $5 million book advance Cuomo received if the state’s public-ethics panel can prove he used state resources on the project:

Disgraced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo could be forced to return the royalties gained from his $5.1 million book deal if it’s determined that he violated New York law, the top official sitting on the state’s ethics agency told lawmakers in Albany on Wednesday.

State Sen. Dan Stec (R-Queensbury) grilled Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) executive director Judge Sanford Berland during a state Senate Ethics Committee hearing as to whether or not the panel was empowered to claw back profits gained from Cuomo’s pandemic-era memoir, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons and the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

“If the financial gain is significantly more than any fines or penalties [that] can be invoked, there’s an obvious encouragement for the behavior… if I get a $5,000 fine for a $5 million book deal — that’s not much of a deterrent. So I guess my question is, again, hypothetically, if financial gain is significant, is there a mechanism for JCOPE to claw back beyond just a standard fine or penalty, but the actual gain itself?” probed Stec.

Berland replied that the statute does provide “for a penalty that includes recoupment of the compensation or benefits received by the individual.”

How likely will it be that JCOPE will take this kind of action? First they would have to establish that Cuomo used state resources for the book, which shouldn’t be too difficult now that he’s in no position to punish any whistleblowers. Assuming they could establish that case, JCOPE could initiate legal action to claw back as much of Cuomo’s windfall as possible, although that might take a while.

But if they could establish that case, it would definitely be in their interest to make the effort. This news report misses the important context that the testimony was not in a hearing about Cuomo but about JCOPE, which has been next to useless in dealing with corruption in the state. The legislature, which was just as useless in dealing with Cuomo, wants to disband JCOPE and start fresh with a new body:

At a hearing Wednesday organized by Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, D-the Bronx, lawmakers scrutinized the record of the Joint Commission on Public Integrity, which monitors lobbying activity and investigates complaints of ethical lapses and sexual harassment.

“It is no secret to any of us here that Albany has a long history riddled with corruption and abuses of power, and it has long been subject to scrutiny for its failure to implement an effective ethical oversight regime,” Biaggi said.

JCOPE would be scrapped under a constitutional amendment plan advanced by Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, and a new entity would then be set up that, at least in theory, would not be subject to the level of political interference that sullied JCOPE’s reputation. That process could take a few years, at least.

In other words, Berland’s fighting to save his job and organization from the axe. What better way to do that than to raid Cuomo’s bank account — or at least make the attempt? If JCOPE takes action, at least Berland can claim, correctly, that he did more against Cuomo than the state legislature ever did.

Let’s not get our hopes up too high, but … at least there’s a chance. Yeah? Yeah!

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David Strom 5:21 PM on June 02, 2023