BUFFALO BILLION II: SAME SAD VERDICT

Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb

BUFFALO BILLION II: Convicted, Again

By Brian M. Kolb

Jurors handed down guilty verdicts to four high-profile executives involved with an economic development pet project of Gov. Cuomo’s that came to highlight nearly everything wrong with how New York does business. The Buffalo Billion – the governor’s taxpayer-funded venture into the solar panel business – was advertised as a once-in-a-generation investment in Western New York, but instead became the poster child of corruption and bribery.

Evidence and testimony have shown a public project tilted in favor of developers who are also generous donors to the Cuomo campaign. Former head of SUNY Polytechnic Alain Kaloyeros, Buffalo-area developer Louis Ciminelli, and COR Development executives Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi were convicted on charges related to bid rigging and bribery. Once again, prosecutors have shed light on a pay-to-play culture that benefits the politically connected at the expense of the taxpaying public.

TROUBLING INFORMATION AND BEHAVIOR REVEALED

This goes well beyond a few bad apples acting badly. It goes to methods and practices of state leaders to keep public projects as far away as possible from public scrutiny.

The trial brought to light a new allegation that the governor’s aides attempted to stop donors from contributing to the Investigative Post, the non-profit news entity that originally uncovered suspicious (and criminal) behavior within the Buffalo Billion project. It’s egregious enough to use stall tactics, block inquiries, and deny information on a public project. But to actively take steps that threaten the financial viability of a news outlet is another level of deplorable.

To anyone who has seen up close how the Cuomo administration operates, very little of this is surprising, nor is it new. Nearly three years have passed since then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara opened the investigation into the Buffalo Billion. Gov. Cuomo’s closest aide, Joe Percoco, was convicted in March and faces up to 50 years in prison. His conviction failed to trigger meaningful action in Albany. It’s hard to believe the guilty verdicts on Kaloyeros & Co. will motivate officials to abandon the status quo.

MAJORITY’S INACTION PROTECTS CORRUPTION, NOT TAXPAYERS

Years have gone by with no change to the corrupted system being outlined by prosecutors. Assembly Democrats simply refused to advance a pair of overdue reform bills that passed with near-unanimous support in the Senate.

The proposals – “The Procurement Integrity Act” (A.6355-A, People-Stokes) and “Database of Deals” bill (A.08175-A, Schimminger) – would restore the comptroller’s oversight authority and create a publically-available catalogue of the state’s economic development efforts. Each measure goes right to the heart of the issues raised during the Buffalo Billion trials.

Assembly Democrats ignored calls for reform from every legislative conference, good government groups and the public. They also failed to take up a bill passed in the Senate (S.1229) to limit the terms for legislative leaders and committee chairs. The ball is, and has been, in their court. By ignoring these opportunities, they have offered more protections for the governor’s corrupted programs than they have for the taxpaying people of New York. As more information comes to light in court, their decision becomes even more indefensible.

The second Buffalo Billion convictions have shown some especially troubling activity and behavior from public officials. The question is now, what’s going to be done about it?

Brian M. Kolb is the Assembly Minority Leader. Email: kolbb@nyassembly.gov
@GOPLdrBrianKolb

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