Governor Andrew Cuomo's signature economic development project in upstate New York is under federal scrutiny. The U.S. attorney has issued subpoenas over how state contracts were awarded as part of the program known as "The Buffalo Billion." Zack Fink filed the following report.
Few argue that the billion-dollar investment Governor Andrew Cuomo promised in his 2012 State of the State address has boosted the city of Buffalo.
Construction is underway on a solar panel manufacturing plant, in which the state is investing $750 million. The construction contract to build SolarCity was awarded to developer Lou Ciminelli, a major financial contributor to Cuomo.
That contract is now being looked at by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who began probing the Cuomo administration after the governor prematurely shutdown his anti-corruption Moreland Commission.
"It suggests that they expect less oversight than there has been," said Jon Resnick of Competitive Advantage Research. "Likely, they did not expect to garner so much attention, first from the Moreland Commission and subsequently from the U.S. attorney."
Reznick is a researcher who tracks political donations. He looked into Ciminelli and his wife's contributions to the Cuomo campaign, which total just under $100,000. But when you add in a donation from a limited liability company, or LLC, known as Highland Park, that figure jumps to $123,000.
"Payment is in the amount of $25,000 in May of 2014. In February, the contract was awarded by Fort Schuyler Management, and in January, Lou Ciminelli in his own name made a contribution of the same amount $25,000," Reznick said. "So these bookend both before and after the contract award."
Cuomo says he has nothing to do with the awarding of state contracts. SUNY Polytechnic Institute controlled the flow of state money through a nonprofit known as Fort Schuyler Management Corporation.
The governor maintains that the Buffalo Billion Project will bring thousands of jobs to Buffalo.
"We are going to make this success not just a great success for the few, but a success for the many," said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul.
SUNY Polytechnic Institute issued what it called a statement of facts last week, which said the Request for Proposal process for all projects related to the Buffalo Billion was open and transparent.