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Disgraced former New York GovernorAndrew Cuomo improperly used state resources for his memoir and “overpowered” the watchdog agency to get approval for the controversial $5.1m deal, according to the findings of an investigation.
A damning report from law firm Hogan Lovells concluded that Mr Cuomo wrote and publicised American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic in 2020 at a time when it interfered with his responsibilities leading New York’s response to the pandemic.
The governor wrote almost the entire book – 70,000 words out of the anticipated 80,000 word book – before he even approached the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) to seek approval to work on the book, the report said.
His office then reportedly strong-armed the JCOPE into approving the multi-million-dollar deal.
Mr Cuomo “misused the power and authority of his office to create, market and promote for enormous personal profit a work that not only was derivative of his official duties but could only have been brought into existence and completed on schedule through the… assistance of a group of Executive Chamber and other State officials,” the report found.
Meanwhile, the JCOPE failed to recognise the “moral quandary” of the deal and failed overall in its role as the state’s ethics watchdog, according to the law firm.
The commission approved Mr Cuomo’s $5.1m contract with publisher Penguin Random House.
According to the report, the agency was “successfully coerced” into rushing through the sign off and accepted the limited information put forward by the governor’s office, failing to ask for further information about the deal.
“Rather than JCOPE telling the Executive Chamber what information it needed to provide in order to obtain approval, the Executive Chamber told JCOPE what information the Governor would provide, which was not much,” the report found.
“The Executive Chamber also successfully coerced JCOPE into expediting the approval and rushing through the process with very minimal due diligence.”
A spokesperson for Mr Cuomo said that the report proved the governor’s insistence there was no wrongdoing, by showing his office handed over all information requested by the commission.
“As we said all along, on advice of counsel all staff who volunteered on the book worked on their own time — and as finally acknowledged today, we provided any and all information that JCOPE required for approval,” Rich Azzopardi, who previously worked in the governor’s office, said in a statement to Spectrum News.
“There is some poetry to the fact that this feeble stunt – authored by the very law firm that is representing JJOKE in our lawsuit – is the last act from this incompetent biased, score settling dinosaur of a bureaucracy.”
Hogan Lovells had been hired by the JCOPE to investigate the goings-ons, given that the watchdog itself was embroiled in the scandal. The JCOPE is now being disbanded by current Governor Kathy Hochul due to ongoing issues around transparency, and a new ethics commission will be created to replace it.
Mr Cuomo, who resigned last August after a state probe found he had sexually harassed multiple women, quickly came under close scrutiny when he released his controversial book at the height of the pandemic.
In American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic, the then-governor celebrated his own success in leading New York – once the global virus epicentre – through the crisis.
When the book was released in October 2020, Mr Cuomo faced a backlash as the nation was still grappling with the virus and was heading into its second wave of the pandemic.
Since then, the book deal has become the focus of multiple probes into the disgraced former governor’s time in power.
New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office is currently investigating whether Mr Cuomo broke the law by getting staff in the governor’s office to work on the memoir.
Mr Cuomo has denied using state resources to write the memoir and said that any staff who helped with the book did so in their personal time, rather than when they were working for the state.
In December, the JCOPE ordered Mr Cuomo to hand over the $5.1m from the book.
Mr Cuomo responded by suing the watchdog, accusing it of bias against him.
He resigned in shame back in August after multiple women – including current and former aides in his office – came forward to accuse him of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour.
The most damning allegation came from a current aide who alleged that he groped her breast in the executive mansion in Albany.
An investigation from AG James’ office found that he had sexually harassed at least 11 women and that his office had retaliated against at least one of the accusers when she came forward with the allegations.
Mr Cuomo announced his resignation one week later.
In his resignation speech, he admitted he made “mistakes” but continued to insist he had never touched anyone inappropriately. He continues to deny the allegations.
It marked the culmination of a dramatic fall from grace for the governor who was seen as a strong leader at the start of the pandemic.
But, his reputation unravelled, thanks also to his office’s undercounting of the number of Covid-19 deaths in the state’s nursing homes.