Major Indictment Stabs at the Heart of New York State’s Economic Development System

Buffalo Light Rail at Fountain Plaza by David Wilson from Oak Park, Illinois, CC BY 2.0

Buffalo Light Rail at Fountain Plaza by David Wilson from Oak Park, Illinois, CC BY 2.0

In my major City Journal feature on Buffalo I noted that US attorney Preet Bharara was investigating Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature Buffalo Billion economic development project there.

Today, the shoe dropped as Preet uncorked a major corruption indictment that included Cuomo associate Joe Percoco, Alain Kaloyeros of SUNY Polytechnic Institute, and Louis Ciminelli of Buffalo’s LP Ciminelli construction among others

This is a huge deal. Kaloyeros is basically the Steve Jobs of Upstate, the man who is responsible for Albany’s massive nanotechnology infrastructure. He’s basically the guy Cuomo tapped to make his vision for Upstate economic transformation happen, and was the person I was told really ran the Buffalo Billion program.

Obviously those accused haven’t been proven guilty in court yet, but this indictment calls into question Cuomo’s plans to replicate the Buffalo Billion in other Upstate communities. It also throws a cloud over developments in Buffalo, among many other things.

I don’t know exactly what set Preet off on this, but I believe some of it was yeomanlike journalism from Jim Heaney and his team at Buffalo’s Investigative Post.  In December 2014, Heaney broke the story of how the state’s developer requirements for the Buffalo Billion included that the developer be based in Buffalo and in business for at least 50 (not a misprint, 50) years. Heany could only identify one company meeting that requirement: LP Ciminelli. (Louis Ciminelli no doubt regrets the $12,500 he donated to Investigative Post!)

What I’m about to say is purely impressionistic. Nobody said anything directly on this. But I talked to a lot of people when I was researching my story, and the impression I got is that Buffalo put together a regional Western New York economic development strategy (and a pretty good one too, I thought) and Cuomo came along and sort of hijacked it for crony capitalistic purposes. Because the governor was pumping so much money into the region, no one there could say anything overtly, but I didn’t think they were really all that enthusiastic about paying $750 million for Elon Musk (Solar City) and recognized the risk of some of these deals.

Dissecting the history of the Buffalo Billion wasn’t my aim in that piece. That’s work for a guy like Heaney. Regardless of that, this is a major indictment that will have major repercussions in the state.

from Aaron M. Renn


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