ALBANY, NY (WSKG/AP) – A federal jury in New York has convicted key players of corruption in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “Buffalo Billion” economic redevelopment program.
The jury in Manhattan returned its verdict Thursday after a month-long trial put a spotlight on how lucrative contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars were awarded for redevelopment projects aimed at revitalizing upstate New York, particularly Syracuse and Buffalo.
Prosecutors maintained the bidding process was corrupt and that deals were steered to favored developers. Defense lawyers said it was not.
One of the lead defendants in the case was Alain Kaloyeros, formerly the president of the State University of New York’s Polytechnic Institute.
Prosecutors said Kaloyeros arranged for a Buffalo developer, Louis Ciminielli, and his company LPCiminelli to win a development job in Buffalo worth a half-billion dollars.
They said two other developers and co-defendants, Steven Aiello, 60, and Joe Gerardi, 58, unfairly won a $100 million job in Syracuse. The men are executives at Syracuse-based COR Development.
All four defendants in the case were convicted on all counts.
Cuomo, a Democrat, had praised Kaloyeros, who led many of Cuomo’s efforts to lure high-tech investment upstate. Cuomo once called Kaloyeros his “economic guru” and the governor invited him to appear at the announcement of various economic development projects.
Cuomo was not charged in the case and was not accused of any wrongdoing, but the trial tarnished a program that the governor had made a centerpiece of his efforts to lift the upstate economy.
In a statement released after the verdict, Cuomo said, “The jury has spoken and justice has been done. There can be no tolerance for those who seek to defraud the system to advance their own personal interests. Anyone who has committed such an egregious act should be punished to the full extent of the law.”
Prosecutors said Kaloyeros was part of a conspiracy to secretly enable developers who were big contributors to Cuomo’s campaigns to win the lucrative contracts.
Ciminelli and others in his company contributed nearly $100,000 to Cuomo’s campaign while COR executives and their relatives contributed $125,000 to Cuomo’s 2014 re-election campaign.
Defense lawyers insisted throughout the trial that the developers were given no advantages in the selection process for the Buffalo Billion project and that other prospective developers had every opportunity to win the jobs.
The governor has said he didn’t know that any of the bid rigging activities were going on.
Cuomo’s opponents in the race for governor pounced. Democratic primary challenger Cynthia Nixon said that she does not know for sure whether the governor , known as a micro manager, ever knew about the activities of those who ran his economic development programs saying “Andrew Cuomo is either corrupt or he is spectacularly incompetent”.
The Republican candidate for governor, Marc Molinaro, blamed Cuomo, saying he “empowered, emboldened and encouraged individuals to bend the rules, rig the system and defrauded taxpayers”.
It’s the second of two federal corruption trials involving former Cuomo associates. Earlier this year, Cuomo’s former closest aide, Joe Percoco, was convicted of bribery.