The jury could begin deliberating as early as next Wednesday in the federal corruption trial of the former head of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s economic development programs, including the Buffalo Billion.
Dr. Alain Kaloyeros, the former head of SUNY Polytechnic College, is on trial along with three upstate developers on bid rigging charges.
Over the weekend, the prosecution offered Kaloyeros a plea bargain, which he refused.
The two top officials of Syracuse-based COR Development, Joseph Gerardi and Steven Aiello, along with Louis Ciminelli, the principle of Buffalo-based LPCiminelli, are accused of secretly fixing government requests for proposals to gain lucrative contracts for their companies. They include the $750 million Solar City factory project in Buffalo.
The developers are also major donors to Cuomo’s election campaigns. Ciminelli gave $100,000 to the Democrat, and arranged a fundraiser that netted $250,000. COR officials held events that also gained hundreds of thousands of dollars for the governor, including an event that featured vintage Corvette sports cars. The governor is known to be fan of the cars.
The donations are not illegal under New York law and Governor Cuomo has not been implicated in the case.
But government reform groups say the donations from developers who win lucrative state contracts give, at the very least, the appearance of a conflict of interest.
“It completely looks like pay to play,” said John Kaehny, with Reinvent Albany.
Kaehny says the governor and legislature could ban political contributions from businesses who are competing for state contracts, to avoid any potential conflicts.
Cuomo in a 2016 memo, first reported in the Albany Times Union, said he would stop accepting contributions from companies vying for state contracts, but did not follow through with the pledge and continues to accept donations.
His political opponents in the governor’s race say they would ban the contributions.
Democratic primary challenger Cynthia Nixon wants to close a loophole in the campaign finance laws that allowed COR, LPCiminelli, and other businesses to use limited liability companies to skirt contribution limits. She would also ban all donations from corporations. Nixon spoke on the first day of the trial, in mid-June outside the Tweed Courthouse in Manhattan, calling New York’s present system “legalized bribery.”
Marc Molinaro, who is running for governor on the Republican ticket wants to ban state government from awarding economic development contracts to private businesses in the first place. The Dutchess County Executive says wants to end what he calls a “pervasive culture of corruption."
“This governor has been given a great deal of discretion to cut checks to private industry,” said Molinaro, who says it’s “emboldened” a culture that encourages attempts to “curry favor” through campaign donations.
Molinaro says many of the companies who have received the state grants are successful already and don’t need tax dollars to help grow their business.
Closing arguments in the case are expected on Monday.