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Cuomo to use tax dollars to pay legal defense in COVID nursing home deaths probe

Law firm representing New York governor and his administration during federal investigation into the state’s handling of nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic will be paid through public funds.

Updated: June 8, 2021 - 11:51am

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

A law firm representing New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his administration as part of a federal investigation into the state’s handling of nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic will be paid through public funds.

The governor told reporters Wednesday his campaign funds would not pick up the tab for a $2.5 million contract with Morvillo Abramowitz Grand Iason & Anello PC.

“The way it works is the Executive Chamber has retained the counsel, and that is a state expense,” he said during a press conference at the Javits Center. “It has been in every investigation.”

Greg Floyd of CBS 6 in Albany reported earlier in the day that partner Elkan Abramowitz would receive “a discounted hourly rate of $937.50,” while others in the firm would be paid $680 an hour.

The hiring of the law firm was first made public three months ago. However, the Albany Times-Union reported Wednesday that the Office of the State Comptroller released contract details. The rate for Abramowitz is cut by 25 percent, while the other attorney fees are deducted by 15 percent.

The federal investigation into the nursing homes stems from a decision the administration made in the early stages of the pandemic, when it told nursing homes to admit COVID-19-positive individuals as residents.

The move was made to free up beds in hospitals. However, within weeks, the death toll skyrocketed to numbers not seen elsewhere in the country.

Last summer, an internal report indicated that COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes were due to workers and visitors who introduced the virus before the state order.

For months, the state reported COVID-19 deaths that occurred in hospitals and ones that happened in nursing homes separately. However, a review by Attorney General Letitia James noted that thousands of hospital deaths were cases that originated in nursing homes and that – even though the state’s overall death total was accurate – the number attributable to long-term care was undercounted by about 50 percent.

Earlier this spring, The New York Times reported that administration officials stalled the release of accurate death toll data for at least five months.

The nursing home scandal is one of several hanging over the governor and his administration. He’s also been accused of sexual harassment by several women, including current and former staffers.

Last year, Cuomo wrote a book on leadership during the COVID-19 crisis. He received more than $5 million for it, and questions have been raised whether administration officials contributed to it while working for the state.

There’s also an investigation into the new Tappan Zee Bridge and whether state officials withheld information about safety concerns.

The Assembly Judiciary Committee is looking into those matters as part of an impeachment probe, and James’ office is overseeing an independent inquiry into the sexual harassment allegations.

Numerous New York lawmakers and officials have called on the governor to resign. Cuomo, who is up for reelection next year, has rebuffed those calls.