Taxpayers to foot mounting legal bills over Cuomo probes

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Taxpayers are set to foot the bill for a $2.5 million contract for lawyers representing Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office in an ongoing federal investigation over his administration’s handling of COVID-19 data in nursing homes, the governor said Wednesday.

Legal bills are mounting as Cuomo and his administration fight back allegations that he abused his power by sexually harassing and assaulting female employees and other women, publishing his COVID-19 leadership book in violation of state ethics laws, providing priority COVID-19 tests to his family in spring 2020 and minimizing the state’s tally of COVID-19 deaths among nursing home residents.

The Department of Justice and state Attorney General’s office have launched probes of such allegations, while the state Assembly judiciary committee’s separate investigation is also considering whether there are grounds to impeach Cuomo.

When asked Wednesday if he is using campaign or personal funds to pay for any lawyers, Cuomo said: “Not at this time.”

“The way it works is the executive chamber has retained a counsel," Cuomo said at the Javits Convention Center in New York City. "And that is a state expense. It has been in every investigation. So that’s where we are now.”

It’s unknown how much taxpayers will end up paying in all for legal costs stemming from wide-ranging allegations against Cuomo.

The governor’s office hasn’t respond to a request from The Associated Press last week for a list of all outside lawyers currently representing Cuomo and his office.

Any contracts for lawyers paid for by the state would need to get reviewed by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

DiNapoli’s office has received and approved one contract for lawyers so far: a $2.5 million contract with the Manhattan firm of Morvillo Abramowitz Grand Iason & Anello. Partner Elkan Abramowitz is set to receive an hourly rate of $937.50, compared with $680 per hour for four other partners named in the contract.

Former federal prosecutor Rita Glavin is representing Cuomo himself on sexual harassment allegations. Cuomo’s office didn’t provide details on compensation for Glavin and additional lawyers representing the Executive Chamber in state-level probes.

Lawyers from Morvillo Abramowitz are representing the Executive Chamber in the Department of Justice’s probe, which is investigating New York’s handling of nursing home data and the publication of Cuomo’s COVID-19 book. The contract says that probe also includes “other pandemic related matters.”

Cuomo spokesperson Rich Azzopardi has said the administration “was absolutely going above and beyond to get people testing” in the early days of the pandemic. And top Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa has defended former aide Larry Schwartz over criticism that Schwartz, who oversaw the state’s vaccination roll-out, called up county executives to support Cuomo.

Cuomo has denied that he inappropriately touched or intended to make anyone uncomfortable, while apologizing for comments “misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation.” He’s claimed that staffers volunteered to help with his COVID-19 book, and said that state health officials withheld nursing home COVID-19 data for months in order to verify it.