- Three construction executives from Buffalo, NY-based construction firm LPCiminelli — including Chairman and CEO Louis Ciminelli — as well as six other aides and officials were charged Thursday with bribery and fraud in relation to how construction contracts were awarded for Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Buffalo Billion development initiative, according to Buffalo Business First.
- Along with Ciminelli, Michael Laipple, president of LPCiminelli's infrastructure division, and Kevin Schuler, senior vice president, were accused of bribery and conspiracy in the so-called "pay-to-play" scheme. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara alleged that LPCiminelli received a $750 million construction contract in return for bribes, disguised as consultant fees, to lobbyist Todd Howe, who authorities claim was in a position to influence the contract award process.
- The other six people charged included Cuomo advisers and development executives. Howe has already pleaded guilty to eight "corruption-related" charges and is cooperating with the government's investigation.
In response to news of the charges, LPCiminelli President Frank Ciminelli issued a statement in which he expressed confidence that "all company officials acted appropriately and legally" and that "everyone will be vindicated."
Bharara's investigation into the Buffalo Billion began last year when he subpoenaed records for the $900 million SolarCity solar-panel plant project, part of the Buffalo Billion's key Riverbend development, for which LPCiminelli is the general contractor. Compounding the project's problems, more than 200 workers walked off the job in March after LPCiminelli, subcontractors and suppliers had not been paid for months. Soon after, the state paid the past due $82.4 million and promised to get to the bottom of late payments.
Then in May, as the Bharara inquiry began to heat up, state lawmakers started to scrutinize Cuomo's requests for extra funding for the SolarCity project. It became apparent that several people close to Cuomo might be pulled into the investigation amid allegations of contract award malfeasance related to the SUNY Polytechnic Institute, which is Cuomo's de facto economic development agency. Legislators delayed the vote to up the SolarCity spend by $485 million, but eventually acquiesced under the provision that disbursement of those funds met certain criteria. No one at SolarCity has been charged in relation to Bharara's investigation.
Cuomo implemented the Buffalo Billion initiative in an effort to inject the Western New York economy with jobs and investment. On the SolarCity project alone, there has been a reported increase in employment in the Buffalo area by 1,500 workers. As of September 2015, the entire Buffalo-Niagara saw construction jobs reach 26,000, the highest figure in 25 years.