The state’s embattled ethics agency voted Thursday to revive a probe of a botched case involving disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s confidante, imprisoned felon Joe Percoco — and announced that Cuomo himself could be in their crosshairs over his $5.1 million coronavirus pandemic memoir.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics voted to make a referral to state Attorney General Letitia James to pursue a criminal investigation into an illegal 2019 leak from the panel about whether it should probe Percoco for alleged misconduct.
JCOPE members also approved a separate referral for the AG’s office to probe the state Inspector General’s Office’s own investigation into the illegal leak of the Percoco case.
The commissioners then went into private session — but the mic was hot.
Commissioners and staffers were heard discussing a potential probe into Cuomo’s office.
“Rita Glavin, counsel to the governor, had asked for a 30-day extension. I explained to her that our next meeting was moved to September,” JCOPE counsel Monica Stamm said during the not-so-secret session.
“She [Glavin] indicated that she would have something for us by the September meeting. At this time is also preparing something for the attorney general’s office, and she expressed that we would likely want to see what it is that she is going to be presenting to them. So with that rationale, that we provide her with additional time to provide her response.”
Another unidentified individual then said a vote “on a substantial investigation” would be held at the next meeting.
Emerging from executive session, Stamm said publicly that a discussion and vote on whether to revoke the agency’s prior approval for Cuomo’s $5.1 million COVID-19 book profits will be on the agenda at its next meeting on Sept. 13.
JCOPE’s executive director, Judge Sanford Berland, told state lawmakers Wednesday if it’s found that ex-Gov. Cuomo is guilty of wrongdoing, the panel does have the legal authority to claw back profits from his multi-million dollar book deal.
AG James, federal prosecutors and the state Assembly Judiciary Committee are also looking at the Cuomo book deal — including whether government staffers and other taxpayer resources were improperly used to prepare it as well as whether Cuomo low-balled or lied about COVID nursing home deaths to make him look better and boost book sales.
Cuomo’s team has maintained that staffers volunteered to help prepare the book on their own time.
“The credibility of this institution — such as any that is left — is at stake,” said JCOPE member Gary Lavine, a Republican appointee, during Thursday’s meeting.
As for the Percoco case, word of JCOPE’s deliberations leaked to Cuomo within an hour of how members had voted on the matter in January 2019.
Cuomo was reportedly not pleased that JCOPE was targeting his own pal for potential violations of the Public Officers Law. Percoco at that point had already been convicted of public corruption following a federal trial.
His displeasure had been passed along to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) over how Heastie’s appointees had voted on the matter.
It’s a misdemeanor crime to leak information about JCOPE’s confidential deliberations and investigations.
But JCOPE, largely controlled by allies of Cuomo, never took action against Percoco and a report by the Cuomo-controlled state inspector general’s concluded it couldn’t find the leaker, though it never interviewed key recipients tipped off — Cuomo and Heastie — to find out. The inspector general’s office defended its handling of the leak investigation.
In April, JCOPE discussed a formal complaint involving Cuomo’s book deal and reports that members of his family received special COVID-19 testing at the pandemic’s height, allowing them swift access to tests during a time when the swabs were scarce.
Lavine proposed a resolution that said, “Pursuant to Section 63 executive law that the breach of confidentiality that occurred at the beginning of January 2019 and any other leaks occurring preceding that leaks and subsequent coverup in the office of inspector general be referred to the attorney general for investigation.”
Eight JCOPE commissioners approved the resolution while five members — all Cuomo appointees — abstained.
The action showed that JCOPE, often criticized as a lapdog instead of an ethics watchdog, is being more assertive now that Cuomo is out of power.
Cuomo, facing impeachment in a sexual harassment scandal, was forced to resign effective Monday. His shameful exit was triggered by an investigative report conducted by AG James’ office that concluded the three-term Democrat had sexually harassed 11 women, including current and former government staffers. Cuomo denied wrongdoing.
Percoco was being eyed for potential misconduct for allegedly managing Cuomo’s 2014 re-election campaign from the governor’s Manhattan office.
Evidence surfaced at Percoco’s federal corruption trial that he was making campaign phone calls from the governor’s Manhattan office.
Using taxpayer resources for campaigning could be construed as a violation of the state Public Officers Law.
A spokeswoman for James did not respond to an immediate request for comment by The Post.
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