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.
Cuomo said today that he had nothing to do with the awarding of any contracts:
Cuomo points finger at SUNY when asked about Buffalo Billion investigation: "SUNY has administered the grant process."— Thomas Kaplan (@thomaskaplan) September 20, 2015
Cuomo on LPCiminelli's role in Buffalo Billion: "I had nothing to do with the selection whatsoever. That was handled by SUNY."— Thomas Kaplan (@thomaskaplan) September 20, 2015
And at least on the face of things, that's true:
SUNY Polytechnic Institute is headed by Alain Kaloyeros, who has led New York's high-tech effort under three governors. A call to Kaloyeros wasn't returned Friday.
In 2014, Cuomo's office had announced the key firms in the Buffalo Billion project were selected by the SUNY College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering and the Fort Schuyler Management Corp.
Kaloyeros headed the college, which is now SUNY Polytechnic Institute.Of course, given Cuomo's famous "hands-on" management style, it's difficult to believe that there wasn't at least a little pressure exerted behind the scenes steering the choices.
Fort Schuyler is nonprofit organization affiliated with SUNY and SUNY Polytechnic "that facilitates research and economic development opportunities in support of New York's emerging nanotechnology and semiconductor clusters," according to its website.
With Cuomo throwing SUNY under the bus today with his statements, the message has been sent to anybody at SUNY Polytechnic or Fort Schuyler that Cuomo is going to scapegoat SUNY here.
So if there was any pressure put upon anybody behind the scenes and/or any other kind of shenanigans Cuomo and his minions are famous for (see the Moreland Commission for a prime example of those), there's going to be an incentive for those pressured to dish dirt to the feds.
Between the Cuomo donors who appear to be recipients of subpoenas from the feds investigating the bidding process (see here for a partial illustration of the tentacles between the Ciminellis, Cuomo and some of the other players) and the SUNY Poly and Fort Schuyler functionaries who handed the contracts out to them, there's a whole lot of danger here that somebody with something very, very damaging to Andrew Cuomo is going to get squeezed.