Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara has expanded his anti-corruption crusade to the far western edge of the state — investigating Gov. Cuomo’s controversial Buffalo Billion revitalization project, The Post has learned.
The probe of Cuomo’s pet project is the first to touch his office beyond Bharara’s investigation of the governor’s shutdown of the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption last year.
The new investigation is focused on the multimillion-dollar contracts awarded to build facilities for high-tech, drug-development and clean-energy businesses, a source familiar with the probe told The Post.
Bharara’s office has slapped several firms with subpoenas in recent months, the source said.
“It’s a comprehensive look at the bidding process,” the source said.
“They’re looking at communications between contractors and state officials.”
Bharara’s probe extends some 250 miles beyond the boundaries of his district, the Southern District of New York, which is headquartered in Manhattan and includes The Bronx and six suburbs north of the city.
First we had leaks about Shelly Silver - Silver got indicted.
Then we had leaks about Dean Skelos - Skelos (and son) got indicted.
Now we have leaks that the feds are investigating state officials over the Buffalo Billions project.
If the pattern continues, well, you know how this ends...
Here are some details:
Cuomo announced the 10-year Buffalo Billion program in his 2012 State of the State speech, saying it would be modeled on the $1 billion-plus program to spur nanotech research and draw semiconductor manufacturers to the Albany region.
One of the plan’s key projects is construction of a $750 million solar-panel factory along the Buffalo River. It will be run by SolarCity, a power provider chaired by Elon Musk, a co-founder of PayPal and CEO of the Tesla Motors electric-car company.
Other elements of Cuomo’s plan include construction of the Buffalo Medical Innovation and Commercialization Hub facility at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, and redevelopment of a downtown Buffalo office tower into a headquarters for IBM and other high-tech firms.
A report this year by the nonprofit Investigative Post blasted Buffalo Billion as a “costly experiment in economic development that is beset by secrecy and politics.” The report said that requests for records under the state Freedom of Information Law were ignored until a lawsuit was filed and that the documents released were stripped of “key information,” including payments to developers.
The report also revealed the developer of two Buffalo Billion buildings is Louis Ciminelli, who contributed $96,500 to Cuomo’s two campaigns for governor.
At one point, the request for proposals to build SolarCity required applicants to have “over 50 years of proven experience” in construction in around Buffalo, which, the report said, excluded any company except Ciminelli’s.
The requirement was changed to 15 years, but his company, LPCiminelli, got the job anyway.
The report also said McGuire Development donated $25,000 to Cuomo’s campaign three months after scoring the technology-hub construction job.
There's been more Buffalo/Cuomo funkiness in the past few months.
Former Erie County Democratic Chair Steve Pigeon, a Cuomo "advisor," was raided in the spring over alleged corruption:
State and federal investigators Thursday searched the homes of three Western New York political operatives – confidants to the New York governor, Buffalo mayor and a member of Congress – sending shock waves across state Democratic and Republican party circles.
The investigation of G. Steven Pigeon, Steven M. Casey and Christopher M. Grant appears focused around an independent political committee called the WNY Progressive Caucus, which has ties to Pigeon. Investigators appear interested in the financial activities of the caucus and its ties to several political campaigns in recent years. The probe also includes questions about “elevated” payments for advertising, mailings and other political activities, a law enforcement official said.
The raids targeted three men who have been integral players in local and statewide politics, and that fact was not lost on party insiders in Buffalo and Albany.
Pigeon has vast political connections, from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to billionaire businessman B. Thomas Golisano.
Casey – dubbed the “shadow mayor” – was until last year the first deputy mayor under Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown.
Grant is chief of staff for Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence.
Here's a good introduction to the Pigeon raids and a comprehensive look into the whole Pigeon mess in Buffalo.
There's also a Pigeon/Moreland connection:
In the Erie County Sheriff’s race, the WNYPC candidate Dick Dobson embarrassed Bert Dunn on primary night. Dunn decided to waste his money and run on a tailor-made third party line, unsuccessfully. WNYPC abandoned Dobson, however, during the general election. There was an unaccounted-for $20,000 that was paid to “Buying Time, LLC” for Dick Dobson ads, which was later claimed to have been a payment reportedly made by AJ Wholesalers directly to Buying Time on the WNYPC’s behalf.
Buying Time is associated with Governor Andrew Cuomo. So associated, in fact, that the New York Times reported that it was sniffing around Buying Time that prompted Cuomo’s office to begin interfering with the work of the shortly-thereafter-disbanded Moreland Commission on Public Corruption.
Kathy Hochul's husband, Bill Hochul, reportedly recused himself from the Pigeon investigation because of his wife's connections to some of those involved in the case:
U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. has recused himself from an investigation into the political activities of G. Steven Pigeon, sources close to the probe told The Buffalo News on Friday.
Because of the potential political ramifications of the probe – including the fact that Pigeon has served as a top political adviser to his wife’s boss, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo – Hochul removed himself from the case weeks ago and named his top assistant – James P. Kennedy – to oversee the investigation and coordinate with the state Attorney General’s Office, the sources said.
The U.S. Justice Department requires a prosecutor to recuse himself or herself from a case when “a conflict of interest exists or there is an appearance of a conflict of interest or loss of impartiality.”
The investigation – which became public knowledge Thursday with the execution of three search warrants – is focused on the political activities of Pigeon, former Democratic Party chairman for Erie County; Steven M. Casey, a Democrat and former deputy mayor of Buffalo; and Christopher M. Grant, a Republican who serves as chief of staff for Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence.
Before we get too excited about the Post story that state officials are being investigated over the Buffalo Billion project, we should note that the report is coming in, you know, the NY Post.
That said, the NY Post independently verified an account from WNBC in January that Bharara was going after Dean Skelos.
A Skelos spokesperson had decried the WNBC report as thinly sourced.
The Post verified it and the WNBC report turned out to be accurate - Skelos and son got nailed a couple of months later.
So, we'll see how this goes and if the pattern holds.
Up until now, it's been leaks, indictment, leaks, indictment...
Now we have a new leak, this one involving state officials and Cuomo's Buffalo Billion boondoggle.
An interesting development, to say the least.