ALBANY — Taxpayers have shelled out nearly $800,000 to the lawyers representing Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his top aides in their defense against charges that the administration withheld data pertaining to COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes and misused state resources in the production of the governor’s $5.1 million book deal.
State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s website shows $795,936.88 has been paid to date to the high-powered law firm Morvillo Abramowitz Grand Iason & Anello and Executive Chamber — out of the $2.5 million contract minted between the attorneys and the Executive Chamber.
“This is absurd that the governor gets a free, taxpayer-funded defense of the various crimes, that I believe, he committed. Why should the taxpayers be on the hook to defend him for abusing resources?” seethed New York Republican Party Chairman Nick Langworthy.
“I saw plenty of emails over the weekend where he was shilling for funds — I think he should dip into that 5.1 million dollars that he unethically made writing that book because the taxpayers have paid enough already. They don’t need to pay for a crooked governor’s defense, it’s absurd,” he said.
The contract says that the firm has been retained to represent Cuomo and his aides as the Department of Justice as well as “other law enforcement or investigative entities” that have “made inquiries and requests for information related to…other pandemic related matters” and are also investigating the Cuomo administration’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic, the production of the governor’s memoir “American Crisis.”
The updated spending is also triple the total amount the state Assembly has allocated to fund its multi-pronged impeachment probe into allegations of sexual harassment against Cuomo by current and former female aides, as well as the withholding of COVID-19 nursing home data and “American Crisis” book deal.
“Look at the fact that you have three times the amount spent so far than was allocated to conduct the entire impeachment investigation by the Assembly into the Governor — you see how rigged the system is in Albany,” added Langworthy.
That contract between the Assembly and the firm Davis Polk & Wardwell — which was signed on April 20 and 21 — is in effect for one year and amounts to $250,000.
“If taxpayers are spending that money to cover the legal expenses of the governor’s scandals, then fairness dictates that we should be making the same investment on both sides,” state Sen. Jessica Ramos (D-Queens) told The Post.
“Overall we need transparency and we certainly shouldn’t be spending a million dollars on the governor’s defense when we’re not making the same if not greater investment in transparency and in seeking justice,” Ramos said.
“I think it’s a glaring difference that can really influence the outcome,” she said.
A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-The Bronx) told The Post the $250,000 contract is “in the process of being amended, as we have said.”
“We are well aware that this inquiry will cost multiples of that. The bill we passed allows both houses of the Legislature to access state funds to meet all the expenses necessary in order to carry out our constitutional duties. Our contract is being amended and it will go to the comptroller for review. People should stop drawing political conclusions from a process that they don’t even care to understand,” said Assembly spokesman Mike Whyland.
Last month, the Legislature passed a bill permitting the state Assembly and Senate to dip into a $156 million fund to pay for the impeachment probe into Cuomo.
Sources said Heastie was worried about the investigation getting too expensive and wanted to find an alternate way to pay for the bill.
Cuomo signed the legislation into law in mid-June.
“We’re focused on delivering for the people of New York and have no comment on this clearly politically motivated Andy hyperbolic rants,” said Rich Azzopardi, Cuomo’s senior advisor and communications director.
Meanwhile, state Attorney General Letitia James is conducting her own investigation into Cuomo’s book deal as well as the sexual harassment allegations against him which includes complaints made by the aides. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
The governor is expected to be interviewed by attorneys hired by her office to conduct the probe this coming Saturday in Albany.