Buffalo Billion trial to begin

Louis Ciminelli

NEW YORK — Buffalo developer Louis Ciminelli was not spared a prison term on Monday.

Instead a federal court judge in Manhattan sentenced the construction magnate and political donor to 28 months behind bars and a half million dollar fine for his conviction in a bid-rigging scheme tied to the Buffalo Billion economic redevelopment program.

U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Caproni handed down the sentence, while saying few crimes are worse than public corruption. She told Ciminelli she hoped that sending him to prison would send a message across the state.

"I hope this sentence will be heard around the state," the judge said.

His defense attorney, Paul Shechtman, argued Ciminelli already has suffered the loss of his company and his previously "unblemished reputation." Outside the Manhattan courthouse, Shechtman told reporters he was pleased his client had been released while a federal appeals court decides "what (Caproni) acknowledged are substantial legal issues."

"Particularly in political corruption cases, she's a strong minded judge," he said of Caproni, "so I take great solace in that on what is otherwise a very difficult day."

Following the sentencing, Falls Mayor Paul Dyster said, "I agree with the judge's sentiments. (Ciminelli) has done so much for the community, that's why all of this was so shocking."

Ciminelli, a pair of Syracuse developers and one of Governor Andrew Cuomo's top economic development aides were all convicted of participating in a pay-to-play scheme following a month-long jury trial.

Prosecutors charged that Ciminelli won a half million dollar contract to build the new Tesla Solar City plant at Riverbend after the bid specifications for the project were tailored to eliminate any competition.

Caproni told Ciminelli he probably could have won the bid "without cheating."

The man who was once one of Buffalo’s biggest builders could have faced up to 20 years prison. However, Caproni said she took into account Ciminelli's on-going battle with cancer in handing down a lesser prison term.

The judge also gave Ciminelli 30 days to pay his half a million dollar fine. Caproni allowed Ciminelli to remain free on bail while he appeals his conviction.

In asking for leniency, Ciminelli told the judge he "loved Buffalo" and always "tried to live a good life."

The judge expressed some skepticism, noting evidence at trial that Ciminelli had deleted an email account that apparently contained messages from a co-defendant.

Ciminelli, whose family business has been involved in many of Western New York’s largest and most iconic development projects, was convicted by a federal court jury in Manhattan on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud.

The jury returned its verdict after a month-long trial that focused on how contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars were awarded for redevelopment projects aimed at revitalizing upstate New York, particularly in Buffalo and Syracuse.

Those convicted along with Ciminellli included Syracuse developers Steven Aiello and Joe Gerardi, as well as Alain Kaloyeros, formerly the president of the State University of New York’s Polytechnic Institute.

Prosecutors had charged that Kaloyeros arranged for Ciminelli, and his company LPCiminelli, to win a more than half a billion dollar contract to build the Riverbend development on the old Republic Steel site in South Buffalo. That site is now the home of the massive Solar City solar panel plant operated by Tesla.

A key witness in the case, former LPCiminelli executive Kevin Schuler testified that the bid specs for the Riverbend project were rigged to make Ciminelli the only possible qualified bidder.

Prosecutors said Aiello and Gerardi unfairly won a $100-million job in Syracuse. The men are executives at Syracuse-based COR Development.

Kaloyeros was convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and two counts of wire fraud. Aiello was convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud. Gerardi was convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud and making a false statement.

Prosecutors also said Kaloyeros was part of a conspiracy to secretly enable developers who were big contributors to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s campaigns to win the lucrative contracts.

Ciminelli and others in his company contributed nearly $100,000 to Cuomo’s campaign while COR executives and their relatives contributed $125,000 to Cuomo’s 2014 re-election campaign.

Cuomo was not charged in the case or accused of any wrongdoing, but the trial tarnished a program that the governor had made a centerpiece of his efforts to lift the upstate economy.

   

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.