Buffalo Billion project kept hush-hush

Executives at LPCiminelli kept the state-affiliated nonprofit overseeing Buffalo Billion projects in the dark about a second project the company was awarded under a no-bid contract, a key witness testified Monday in the ongoing corruption trial.

The company was chosen – quietly – to build a lab and office for biotech company Albany Molecular Research Inc. before LPCiminelli had even submitted their response to the Request for Proposals to build a factory for SolarCity that prosecutors said was rigged in their favor by Alain Kaloyeros and lobbyist Todd Howe.

Kevin Schuler, a former LPCiminelli executive who has pled guilty to wire fraud and conspiracy charges and is cooperating with prosecutors, testified Monday that the company was given the AMRI work without a competitive process. Under questioning, he said that decision was made by Kaloyeros, the former president of the SUNY Polytechnic Institute, who oversaw the Buffalo Billion program and is accused of steering contracts to developers who were also major contributors to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

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As LPCiminelli executives prepared to respond to the SolarCity RFP, Schuler testified, they were anxious about disclosing that the company was already working for Fort Schuyler. Before a conference call with Fort Schuyler officials, Schuler said another senior executive “was concerned: do we kind of have to pretend we don’t know each other? Is it going to be up front that we have all been working together previously?”

In the end, LPCiminelli executives agreed to keep it quiet, with Frank Ciminelli emailing colleagues: “Please avoid any reference to our efforts include AMRI in the Conventus building. There were a few on the call who will be familiar with it and others who will not. We do not want to run the risk of confusing or complicating the discussion.”

Investigative Post reported in November 2016 that LPCiminelli had benefited from a change of plans on the AMRI project:

After initially settling on a site on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus to house AMRI, officials from Fort Schuyler abruptly abandoned that plan in the fall of 2013 in favor of a building under construction by Louis Ciminelli’s company, LPCiminelli, and owned by his brother Paul’s firm, Ciminelli Real Estate. The two companies are separate entities with no shared ownership.”
But the decision backfired, resulting in construction costs that were substantially higher than anticipated, and logistical problems for AMRI, which couldn’t store the highly flammable chemicals it used for research on the seventh floor.

LPCiminelli’s founder and former CEO, Louis Ciminelli, is facing corruption charges in federal court in Manhattan, along with Kaloyeros and two executives from Syracuse-based COR Development. Prosecutors say they, along with Todd Howe, who has pled guilty, took part in a scheme to secretly tailor the RFPs for major state contracts to ensure LPCiminelli and COR would win the work.

The trial continued Tuesday with additional testimony from Schuler.