Corruption trial begins in Buffalo Billion case

Louis Ciminelli is the only local defendant

Tom Puckett
June 18, 2018 - 4:16 pm

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NEW YORK (AP) — A former president of the State University of New York's Polytechnic Institute was alternately portrayed as a hero or a scoundrel at the opening of a corruption trial Monday over upstate construction projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Zhou told a Manhattan jury that Alain Kaloyeros made sure the "fix was in" so his preferred developers got lucrative deals in a development plan known as Buffalo Billion.

But defense lawyer Reid Weingarten depicted Kaloyeros, a 62-year-old Lebanese-born scientist, as "a hero in Albany" for creating high-technology jobs in an entirely legal effort to honor Gov. Andrew Cuomo's "request to spread the miracle" to upstate New York.

Attorney Paul Cambria is quick to take opening arguments with a grain of salt. "Opening statements are basically what you believe the evidence is going to show when the case is over," says Cambria. "The lawyers weren't there for any factual transaction so it's basically what they think will be the outcome of the proof."

Kaloyeros is accused of conspiring with construction and real estate executives to rig bids for lucrative projects in Buffalo and Syracuse — an allegation that Weingarten said the defense team would "blow ... into smithereens."

The lawyer said it will be like "child's play" to prove that the bidding process did not favor the defendants. Repeatedly, he referred to his client as "Dr. K."

The trial is the second to rely heavily on emails from a long-time consultant with close ties to Cuomo. Lawyers for Kaloyeros and three co-defendants including Lou Ciminelli of LP Ciminelli promised to show jurors that the consultant, Todd Howe, was responsible for any crimes that took place.

"The government's going to try to show some dishonest activity to have the bids go to Ciminelli," says Cambria. "Defense team will say everything that was done was always done and they didn't do anything wrong."

The first trial ended with the conviction of Joseph Percoco, a former top aide to the Democratic governor, and others on bribery and fraud charges. Howe's testimony at Percoco's trial led to Howe's incarceration after he admitted violating his cooperation agreement with the government. He will not testify at the second trial.

Cuomo was not accused of wrongdoing at either trial.

Cuomo once called Kaloyeros his "economic guru," and the governor invited him to appear at the announcement of various economic development projects.

But Zhou said Kaloyeros, who led the Polytechnic Institute until he resigned in October 2016, made sure Buffalo-area developer Louis Ciminielli, 62, got a more than half-billion-dollar deal to build a high-tech factory in Buffalo and that Syracuse-based COR Development, including top executives Steven Aiello, 60, and Joe Gerardi, 58, received a $100 million deal to build a factory and film studio in Syracuse.

"This is a case about lying and cheating to get large state construction contracts for hundreds of millions of dollars," Zhou said.

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

Lawyers for Ciminielli, Aiello and Gerardi blamed Howe for smearing their clients' good names, saying he was the criminal.

"No crimes were committed here," said attorney Steve Coffey, representing Aiello.

"My client is not guilty of anything," said Milton Williams, Gerardi's lawyer. "This is a case about how my client, Joe Gerardi, was a victim of Todd Howe."

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