Most people who follow the news know that New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration is under investigation by US Attorney Preet Bharara. Yet few understand the long trail of suspicious behavior that prompted the probe.
It began in 2013 when the state initiated the $750 million RiverBend subproject of the Buffalo Billion economic development program. Any project of this scale is put out to bid through the state’s normal construction routine, beginning with notices in the state publication “The Contract Reporter.”
Instead, the state took out a legal notice on page B11 of The Buffalo News, next to the crossword puzzle. The ad directed interested parties to contact the Fort Schuyler Management Corporation in Utica to get a bidding package with details of a Request for Proposals (RFP) in return for signing a confidentiality agreement.
Fort Schuyler is a not-for-profit corporation that SUNY Polytechnic Institute created to avoid normal bidding regulations. Its practices are not governed by the usual system checks and balances for state contracts and its proceedings are not approved by the State Comptroller’s Office.
One element of the RFP that made some bidders suspicious: The original RFP demanded that a winning bidder have at least 50 years of “proven experience” in a variety of real estate experience in Buffalo. That would steer the huge contract to only two eligible bidders: LPCiminelli and McGuire Development. Both of those company’s websites note 50 years’ worth of various business dealings in Buffalo.
Now the state says that the 50 year requirement was “an honest mistake” that was later changed to 15 years in October 2013. Analysts familiar with the process have their doubts. Documents related to construction projects are checked by dozens of experienced eyes.
Moreover, the point person for Fort Schuyler is Alain Kaloyeros, a Cuomo acolyte who is under investigation by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is looking at possible bid-rigging violations for a separate project. A source quoted by the Buffalo News confirmed that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is aware of Schneiderman’s probe and that Bharara’s Buffalo Billion investigation is “inter-connected.”
Just two days before that RiverBend bid results were announced, Cuomo flew to Buffalo to raise money for his campaign at two fundraisers, including one that LPCiminelli’s owner Louis Ciminelli hosted at a Buffalo restaurant. Unsurprisingly, Ciminelli won the contract.
Four months later, the state increased the scope of the $49 million project to $400 million without rebidding it.
Now Bharara has issued subpoenas in his investigation of whether longtime Cuomo friend and aide Joe Percoco received $150,000 in bribes related to the RiverBend project.
Cuomo denied culpability and launched his own “independent” investigation. Albany insiders know Cuomo is a control freak and that nothing, large or small, happens in state government without his blessing.
Percoco was the first non-elected official to be thanked by Cuomo in his November 2014 acceptance speech, during which Cuomo praised him as “my father’s third son and my brother.”
The New York Post quoted an unnamed Democrat who once counted himself among Cuomo’s strongest supporters as saying “This is a devastating turning point for Andrew that could be the beginning of the end’’ of his career.
Two of the “three men in a room” who once governed New York, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and Senate leader Dean Skelos, have been convicted in corruption probes.
Given the circumstances, Cuomo could well become the third.
Pictured: Cuomo with Percoco, NY Daily News