Buffalo Billion probe targets Cuomo insiders

Reporting, analysis and commentary
by Jim Heaney, editor of Investigative Post

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s investigation into the Buffalo Billion, triggered by Investigative Post’s relentless reporting, appears to have targeted members of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s inner-circle.

The feds issued subpoenas to the governor’s office Friday, and, in turn, the Cuomo administration announced its own investigation and issued a press release that appeared to throw one or more close associates under the bus.

Folks, this could get real ugly real quick.

Those under scrutiny include Joseph Percoco, a top Cuomo aid and political enforcer who recently left the administration; longtime associate and lobbyist Todd Howe; and Alain Kaloyeros, the so-called nanotech guru who the governor has entrusted to quarterback the Buffalo Billion and several other big-ticket upstate economic development projects. Also reportedly under scrutiny is Louis Ciminelli, a major Cuomo donor whose LPCiminelli was selected to develop the SolarCity project.

The New York Daily News broke the story early Friday evening. Other outlets followed suit, including the New York Post, Politico New York, The New York Times and the Observer.

Reported the Observer:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office acknowledged late today that contractors close to his office may have “deceived” and “defrauded” the state, and that one of his top aides may have engaged in “improper lobbying”—and announced he was putting a former lieutenant to Rudolph Giuliani in charge of a “full review.”

Bharara’s deepening probe clearly has the governor rattled, as evidenced by his decision to launch an executive probe into the awarding of Buffalo Billion contracts. Of course, this amounts to the administration investigating itself, which does not exactly inspire confidence, especially given the way Cuomo undermined the Moreland Commission.

The U.S. Attorney launched his probe last fall in the wake of a series of stories produced by Investigative Post that published on our website and broadcast on WGRZ.

In December 2014, I reported on the curious circumstances of the state’s awarding of a contract to LPCiminelli to develop the SolarCity plant in Buffalo and the Cuomo administration’s outrageous efforts to thwart my reporting,

Other key stories have included the state’s continued lack of transparency on the program and its begrudging release of records in the face of a lawsuit we filed with WGRZ. I also did a story in June for a number of papers statewide, including the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle and the Albany Times Union that summed the whole thing up.

In addition to scrutinizing the awarding of contracts, we’ve taken a close look at SolarCity’s shaky finances, including this initial report in October 2014 and a recent update published in February in which I concluded:

“It’s becoming increasing clear that Gov. Andrew Cuomo took a big risk with taxpayer money to build SolarCity a $750 million plant.”

With news of the widening federal probe, it’s looking like Cuomo’s political future, as well as taxpayer funds, are at risk.

I’ll have more to say in the days ahead. Stay tuned.