New York Attorney General Letitia James’s office said it cannot seize millions of dollars paid to former Gov. Andrew Cuomo as part of a book deal without a further investigation.
In a letter dated Thursday, Ms. James’s general counsel told the New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics it had to take additional procedural steps before any of the funds could be disgorged.
JCOPE on Tuesday approved a resolution saying Mr. Cuomo had 30 days to relinquish all compensation he received for the book "American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic." That resolution tasked Ms. James’s office with enforcing the resolution.
The letter says that "referrals will be made after an agency has exhausted its own collection efforts. It is therefore premature to ask [the attorney general’s office] 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."
The former governor’s attorney, Jim McGuire, said JCOPE had "flagrantly exceeded its statutory authority in ordering the disgorgement." "We remain ready to vindicate the governor before a politically neutral body, our courts," Mr. McGuire said.
A JCOPE spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The commission’s action this week came after several months of attempts by commissioners to sanction Mr. Cuomo for the $5.1 million publishing contract related to the book, which was published in October of 2020.
A commission staff member approved the project in July of last year subject to a number of conditions, including that "no state property, personnel or other resources may be utilized for activities associated with the book."
Subsequently, a report by a state Assembly committee that had been considering articles of impeachment against Mr. Cuomo found he required government aides to help produce his memoir during work hours and recorded its audio version during weekday sessions at the state Executive Mansion. The commission revoked its approval of the book project last month.
Previously, a spokesman for Mr. Cuomo said state aides volunteered their time to work on the book and any use of state resources was incidental.
The production of the memoir is also the subject of inquiries by state and federal prosecutors. The Assembly report showed Mr. Cuomo and his aides were negotiating with publisher Crown, an imprint of Penguin Random House, at the same time they held back a fuller tally of the number of Covid-19 deaths attributed to nursing homes.
Mr. Cuomo resigned from office in August after Ms. James released a report saying he sexually harassed multiple women, including current and former state employees. He was charged with forcible touching in connection with a 2020 encounter with an executive assistant at the Executive Mansion.
The former governor has said he never touched anybody inappropriately, and has said Ms. James’s investigation was politically motivated. Ms. James denied the charge; she launched and ended a campaign for governor this autumn.