Two of New York’s most-powerful landlords are little-known nonprofits with deep pockets, well-connected boards of directors, ties to Rochester contractors and a growing portfolio worth billions that has attracted attention from federal prosecutors.
Meet the Fort Schuyler Management Corp. and Fuller Road Management Corp., owners of an increasing number of the facilities at the center of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s push to revitalize upstate New York’s long-lagging economy.
The two nonprofits act as the real-estate arm of the SUNY Polytechnic Institute, the Albany- and Utica-based college whose clout has spread as Cuomo entrusted founding president Alain Kaloyeros with overseeing the Buffalo Billion development program, a $600 million photonics institute in Rochester and facilities in Greece, Canandaigua, Utica and Syracuse.
The nonprofits have awarded lucrative contracts to big-money donors to Cuomo’s political campaign, including two Rochester-based contractors. Board members at various points have seen their companies or clients receive leases and deals, a review by Gannett’s Albany Bureau shows.
For years, Fort Schuyler and Fuller Road have operated with little scrutiny — largely faceless, quasi-public organizations existing as a mechanism to comply with IRS rules when transferring billions in state funds to facilities that house private companies.
That has changed: U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman are separately investigating contracts awarded by the two entities, with Cuomo’s administration acknowledging the federal investigation is examining possible “improper bidding.”
Here's the way this worked:
Contractors submitted bids (often rigged by the state so that only one local contractor could win), then submitted contributions to Cuomo, then won the contracts - whee!!!!
How often did this happen?
A lot - take the Rochester contracts, for example:
As their portfolio grew, Fort Schuyler and Fuller Road have doled out construction contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years. Often, those contracts went to Cuomo campaign donors, records show.
In Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany and Plattsburgh, Fort Schuyler put out separate requests for proposals for a “qualified local developer” to develop a “strategic partnership” with.
The requests for proposals were detailed and extensive, requiring a locally based contractor with at least 15 years experience and the ability to build high-tech infrastructure such as clean rooms and smart classrooms.
Fort Schuyler’s contract in Rochester went to LeChase Construction and The Pike Co. in 2014, meeting minutes show.
On Sept. 24, 2014, eight days after Fort Schuyler’s board was informed of the Rochester bids, LeChase CEO Wayne LeChase contributed $25,000 to Cuomo’s re-election campaign, state records show. The same day, Pike President Rufus Judson contributed $10,000.
Five days later, Wayne LeChase contributed another $11,181.
And the Buffalo contracts:
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is probing the process by which three developers who are Gov. Cuomo donors came to get the bulk of a billion dollars in state contracts to develop major projects in Buffalo. Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute, the president of which, Alain Kaloyeros, oversees the Buffalo Billion program. The program is supposed to generate thousands of upstate jobs through the tech, clean-energy, and pharmaceutical facilities the Cuomo cronies were tapped to build with $855 million in taxpayer money.
Pressed earlier this summer by a reporter for Buffalo's Investigative Post who was seeking details of the bidding process and faced illegal stonewalling across multiple state agencies and state-run nonprofits, Kaloyeros said, "We are not political operatives nor do we respond to perceived threats and terrorism." That "terrorism" apparently consisted of repeated phone calls, emails, and Freedom of Information Law requests.
Still, little is known about the selection process. What is clear, according to the Investigative Post, is that developer McGuire Development scored the $55 million contract to renovate skyscrapers in Buffalo to accommodate IBM, then three months later, donated $25,000 to Cuomo's campaign. The firm LP Ciminelli scored a heftier $750 million contract to build a solar-panel factory. Its president, Louis Ciminelli, is one of Cuomo's biggest donors in the region, having contributed $96,500 to the governor's two campaigns. Until competitors balked, the request for bids was written with the requirement that bidders have 50 years experience working in Buffalo, which only LP Ciminelli did. That company and Ciminelli Real Estate, run by Louis Ciminelli's brother, won the $50 million contract to build drug research space at a Buffalo medical campus. Paul Ciminelli's $10,500 to Cuomo and $5,000 to Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul cannot have hurt.
And the Syracuse contracts:
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- COR Development, the politically connected company developing the state's nanotechnology hub in DeWitt and Syracuse's Inner Harbor, gave Gov. Andrew Cuomo $50,000 in the past six months, making them Cuomo's top donor in Central New York.
Cuomo has $16 million in his campaign account, according to a campaign finance report he filed Friday.
Cuomo received $25,000 last week, on Jan. 12, from a COR Development subsidiary, Clay South Development Co., and four COR executives, including President Steven Aiello, Executive Vice Presidents Joe Girardi and Paul Joynt, and Julie Aiello, the wife of Executive Vice President Jeffrey Aiello.
That came on top of $25,000 that COR Route 31 Co. LLC gave to Cuomo on Aug. 24.
COR has been the governor's biggest contributor from the Syracuse region since Cuomo was elected governor in 2010, giving him more than $300,000.
The company has received contracts from the state for numerous projects under Cuomo. COR built a $15 million film hub for New York state in 2015 on land it owns in DeWitt. Cuomo announced COR would also build a $90 million facility for Soraa, an LED lighting manufacturer at the same nanotechnology hub.
And the timing of the donations?
COR Development, its subsidiaries, four partners and their wives are among the largest Cuomo donors in Central New York. They have given a combined $337,500 to Cuomo's election campaigns between October 2010 and January 2016.
Partners and family members write checks to the governor's campaign for as much as $25,000, sometimes on the same day, records show. A statewide candidate can accept up to $44,000 per individual for the four-year election cycle. An individual donor is limited to $150,000 in combined contributions to all candidates in a calendar year, according to the NYS Board of Elections.
A clear pattern - RFP's rigged so that only one or two contractors can win them, proposals submitted by the contractors, donations sent to Cuomo concurrent to the proposals, contracts doled out to the donors.
Now whether Bharara is able to tie Cuomo to this, make a criminal case out of it and take him out in handcuffs is another matter.
But the pattern throughout is quite clear - it's pay-to-play all the way with Andrew Cuomo.