On March 31st, a New York Times article reported that Governor Cuomo used state resources to write and edit his book, “American Crisis.” The article detailed allegations that Governor Cuomo had relied on executive staff to work on the book through editing and clerical work.
Since the revelations, many have asked what specific part of state ethics law these alleged acts violate. The answer is in Public Officers Law Section 74, under (3)(d):
No officer or employee of a state agency, member of the legislature or legislative employee should use or attempt to use his or her official position to secure unwarranted privileges or exemptions for himself or herself or others, including but not limited to, the misappropriation to himself, herself or to others of the property, services or other resources of the state for private business or other compensated non-governmental purposes.
The Governor allegedly had state employees work on the book. The employees would be considered “resources of the state,” and the book would be considered “private business.” The Governor’s office has argued that employees were working on a volunteer basis, which would mean that they were not compensated for their work.
Over twenty JCOPE enforcement actions have cited violations of §74(3)(d). For example, in 2014, an MTA employee was fined $1,500 for using state “printers, computers, and other software … to benefit his private engineering company.” The settlement agreement stated that the employee’s actions violated §74(3)(d).
Under Public Officers Law Section 74, the maximum fine for violations is $10,000. However, a state official who “knowingly and intentionally” violates the law shall be “subject to a civil penalty in an amount not to exceed the value of any gift, compensation or benefit received as a result of such violation.”
For example, in 2013, Dr. Yasha Yi, a professor at CUNY Staten Island, was fined $64,831 for participating in a state contract decision that benefitted his own company, 3G. Dr. Yi informed the university that the technology they sought was only available from 3G. Soon after, the university gave 3G a check for $44,831. The check was deposited into 3G’s account, of which Dr. Yi was “the sole custodian.” Dr. Yi was required to pay back the full amount plus a fine of $20,000. A JCOPE letter to Dr. Yi alleged that §74(3)(d) had been violated, though Dr. Yi never admitted to violating this particular statute.
Public officials have also been fined in large amounts before – former Assemblymember Vito Lopez was fined $330,000 by JCOPE in 2013 for sexual misconduct. In 2013, former Assemblymember Dennis Gabryszak was fined $100,000. Large fines can also apply to the most powerful official in the state: Former Governor David Paterson was fined for $62,215 following his Yankees tickets scandal in 2011.