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.
The New York Post, which first reported the subpoenas, notes that Kathy Hochul's husband Bill is U.S. Attorney for the district centered in Buffalo, and Bharara seems to be stepping on his toes in a big way. In a recent speech, Lt. Gov Hochul said that before the Buffalo Billion program, "people had given up hope."
Asked on Friday about the investigation, Cuomo told the New York Times, "Yeah, I don't know anything about that."