Prosecutors and lawyers for the defense gave opening statements Monday in the bid rigging trial of a former associate of Gov. Cuomo and two upstate development firms, who are accused of fraudulently obtaining lucrative taxpayer-funded state contracts.
Meanwhile, Cuomo’s political opponents seized on the trial as evidence of what they say is corruption in the incumbent governor’s administration, while reform groups pressed for changes in New York’s laws.
Republican candidate for governor, Marc Molinaro, stood outside the courthouse in lower Manhattan, just before the corruption trial of former SUNY Polytechnic President and leader of Cuomo’s economic development programs, Dr. Alain Kaloyeros, and three upstate developers, got underway. He said Cuomo is connected to the corruption by accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the developers.
“Remember, follow the money,” Molinaro said. “It all ends up in Andrew Cuomo’s campaign accounts.”
Cuomo has not been implicated in the trial. He was also not charged in connection with a case earlier this year that led to a bribery conviction of the governor’s former closest aide, Joe Percoco.
Kaloyeros, the two top officials of Syracuse-based COR development and Louis Ciminelli, the principle of Buffalo based LPCiminelli, are accused of secretly fixing government requests for proposals to steer lucrative contracts to themselves, including the $750 million Solar City factory project in Buffalo, and a failed $15-million-dollar film hub outside Syracuse. That film hub property, which stood empty for years, was recently sold by the state to Onondaga County for $1.
Cuomo’s Democratic primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon, also drew attention to the trial, holding a press conference on campaign finance reform outside the Tweed Courthouse. It’s named for the infamous Boss Tweed who oversaw a corrupt Tammany Hall political organization in the 19th century.
Nixon called the ongoing corruption trials an indication of what she says is “legalized bribery” occurring in Cuomo’s administration.
“Where virtually unlimited donations grant unprecedented access and influence to a wealthy few,” Nixon said.
Nixon said there are more indications of what she says is a pattern of pay to play behavior within the governor’s administration.
The Albany Times Union reported that a health care company which gave $400,000 to Cuomo’s campaign, is being investigated by the FBI for an alleged pay to play deal. The company, known as Crystal Run, received $25 million in state grants to build facilities in Orange County in the Hudson Valley.
A spokesman for Cuomo, Rich Azzopardi, says the governor’s office has not been contacted by the FBI and is not implicated in the probe.
Government reform groups say they will be closely watching the trial. John Kaehny, with Reinvent Albany, says he also wants to hear more about practices that are legal under the state’s current campaign finance reform laws, but seem to be unsavory.
“What this trial will show us is a lot about how the current economic development projects are secret, shady, not necessarily well thought out,” Kaehny said. “It’s not going to be a pretty picture.”
Ron Deutsch, with the union funded think tank Fiscal Policy Institute, says there are questions about whether the governor’s multi-billion dollar statewide economic programs are the best use of taxpayer money.
“We don’t know if a lot of these economic development programs are creating jobs,” Deutsch said.
The reform groups want the legislature to reinstate the State Comptroller’s authority over reviewing the economic development contracts, and enact a public database of all of the taxpayer funded projects, with information on how much the project costs, the state grants and tax breaks the projects are receiving, and how many jobs are being created.
The measures have passed in the State Senate, but are stalled in the State Assembly. Gov. Cuomo supports a different set of reforms, including a new inspector general’s office within his own administration to investigate potential corruption.