SUNY Chancellor James Malatras was grilled by investigators for allegedly pitching in on disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $5.1 million COVID-19 memoir during normal work hours, The Post has learned.
Malatras told attorneys for the Assembly Judiciary Committee — whose ongoing probe into Cuomo includes whether he illegally used staff and other government resources to write his self-congratulatory tome — that he helped edit and fact-check the manuscript last summer before he was selected SUNY chancellor, according to sources.
“Malatras admitted to the investigators that he worked on the book during work hours,” said the source familiar with the investigation. “Working on a 300-page manuscript is not a 15-minute job. How can he say no? His jobs were dependent on the governor.”
“This was a profit-making book to enrich Andrew Cuomo. It wasn’t done for any government purpose. How is this legal?”
Just weeks after working on Cuomo’s book, SUNY’s board of trustees appointed Malatras — at Cuomo’s behest — as the new chancellor without a national search, which is customary for a perch heading the 64-campus public university system.
Before taking the reins of one of the most prestigious posts in higher academia, Malatras served as a key official on Cuomo’s COVID-19 task force who sat beside the governor during his daily press conferences.
The Assembly Judiciary Committee is in the midst of an impeachment probe that was launched before Cuomo resigned earlier this month following a scathing report by state Attorney General Letitia James that concluded he sexually harassed 11 women during his time in office.
Jim Malatras allegedly pitched in on Andrew Cuomo’s book during normal work hours.Hans Pennink
The panel is also investigating the alleged cover-up of COVID-19 nursing home deaths in the state, as well as the sexual misconduct accusations that resulted in Cuomo’s stunning fall from grace.
In addition, James is looking into what resources were used to put together Cuomo’s book — “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.”
Malatras confirmed to The Post that he worked two long weekends in late July or early August of last year to edit and fact-check Cuomo’s manuscript.
That job also spanned two Fridays, he said, insisting that he took personal time on those days.
“So what? I took time off,” Malatras said about working on what typically are normal work days.
“I was very happy to be done with it, too,” he added.
At the time, Malatras was earning a $297,441 salary as president of SUNY’s Empire State College, an online learning institution.
“I tried to think of it as an extracurricular activity,” he said, insisting that he acted appropriately when it came to Cuomo’s book. “I didn’t work on the book during business hours. I took time off. I testified as such.”
Malatras also denied any connection between his work on the book and the ex-governor using his political muscle to get him appointed as the $359,630-a-year chief of SUNY on Aug. 21, 2020.
Two top Cuomo aides — Secretary Melissa DeRosa and executive aide Stephanie Benton — asked him to pitch in and he agreed, Malatras explained.
He said he had “no idea” Cuomo was making a $5 million profit from the book and was “surprised” when he heard about it.
He also said he wasn’t aware of Cuomo’s agreement with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics not to use public resources to prepare the book.
Cuomo’s office had insisted all staff who worked on the book did so voluntarily — during off-hours or on their own time, whether they took vacation or personal time allotted them.
Ex-Governor Andrew Cuomo received $5.1 million for his COVID-19 memoir.Matthew McDermott
But former Gov. David Paterson scoffed at the claim that members of the executive chamber were doing it on their own time.
“It’s a phony argument. If they’re working on the book, they’re working!” Paterson told The Post. “You serve at the pleasure of the governor. If he’s displeased — you’re gone.”
Paterson had passed an executive order when he was governor in 2008 barring the use of government resources for non-government purposes.
Jim Malatras confirmed he worked two long weekends to edit and fact-check Andrew Cuomo’s manuscript.Hans Pennink
Sources said Cuomo should be required to repay the state for using government resources if it’s determined he violated the law.
One Assembly source, who requested anonymity regarding the confidential Malatras testimony, said the current SUNY chancellor appeared not thrilled about working on Cuomo’s book project — but did so anyway to be a “a good soldier.”
“This was an administration project, not a Cuomo project,” the source said. “When a patron asks you to do something, you do it.”