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Feds Probe SUNY Poly Project

Federal forces have been peering over New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's shoulder, looking at the chief executive's dealings and contacts for any sign of possible conflicts-of-interest as well as unusual deals or agreements.  SUNY Polytechnic is also being investigated.

Word came late on April 29th on a recent Friday: U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was looking into the Cuomo administration’s Buffalo Billion initiative, and the administration in turn was bringing on a former prosecutor to launch its own investigation. SUNY Polytechnic President Alain Kaloyeros reportedly is under scrutiny, as investigators turn over stones looking for possible "bid-rigging" involving Kaloyeros’ possible connections with a company picked to put a dormitory up on the SUNY Poly campus, and college board member Joseph Nicolla, who happens to be CEO of the construction company.

Last year's reports of subpoenas in the Buffalo Billion matter involved SUNY Poly and caught the attention of reporters, including Wall Street Journal scribe Rebecca O'Brien.     "SUNY's contracting process and the players involved and not just the contracts specifically, but kind of on a bigger level their role in redevelopment projects around the state, which had been championed by Governor Cuomo and that which Alain Kaloyeros is at the center."

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, according to reports, had been investigating the projects since September as well, trying to determine whether the bidding process to build the dorms violates New York’s anti-trust laws.

It is far too early to know what the outcome of the investigations might be. After looking into the Moreland Act Commission’s sudden closure, Bharara concluded there was no evidence a crime had occurred. Still, the apparent "new normal" has  federal prosecutors ferreting out and exposing high-level politicians.

There have been many casualties of the calls for transparency in government, which former Assemblyman and Albany historian Jack McEneny links back to the days of the post-Watergate era:    "That we learn who contributors are, what kind of investments exist, where conflicts-of-interest might be there between a public individual and/or their immediate family. And in requiring this reporting, we've given investigatory bodies and prosecutors the tools that they need. Sometimes it's just a hint of a place to look, in other cases it provides credibility, perhaps to a whistleblower's comment, but the tools are there because of the reporting, and then, in this, the internet age, then you can go deeper and deeper and look for connections."

When information trickles down to the news media, it can be awkward for a public figure like Kaloyeros. O'Brien emphasizes no one has accused the Cuomo ally of wrongdoing, and he hasn't been charged with anything.   "I think everyone's sort of looking at him and paying attention to his role in the state's economic development and specifically in the governor's economic development sort of mission. And I think it's also worth noting that he himself obviously is a larger than life figure. The role of SUNY in all of this is of interest to me. I'm not sure what to make of it yet but the fact that SUNY seems to be acting as a development arm of the state in a lot of ways... Anytime you see that, it just seems really interesting to me. What is SUNY? I mean, they are just becoming this vehicle for private-public partnerships upstate and lots of contracts are flying around, lots of money, and that doesn't necessarily mean anything's wrong, but it just means that they're gonna be an interesting subject for investigation."

Albany Assemblyman John McDonald says lawmakers are "just as interested as everyone else."    "You know, this always a challenge when government, whether it's federal or state, is trying to inspire business, is that it does take a unique path. It takes partnerships, but sometimes there's a lot of rules and regulations that the business community never likes, and not really sure where this is leading to. I'm hoping that nothing was done inappropriately. It's not helpful.  With the upstate economy we need every single project to be successful. And SUNY Poly has been successful in many aspects, and I'd hate to see it fail."

A lawyer for SUNY Polytechnic told the Wall Street Journal that it was fully cooperating with investigators, stressing that no evidence of wrongdoing has been found.

Requests for comment from the governor's office, SUNY Polytechnic and the Attorney General's office were not returned.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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