Government's key witness testifies at Buffalo Billion trial

"I would have spent the first billion and been on to the second billion"

June 21, 2018 - 9:56 pm
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NEW YORK (WBEN/AP) — The government's prized cooperator at a corruption trial that grew from an ambitious New York state redevelopment plan known as the Buffalo Billion began his testimony Thursday, describing how a developer and a key player in the project forged a solid relationship after bonding while talking about cars.

Kevin Schuler told a Manhattan federal court jury that his boss at the Buffalo construction firm LPCiminelli and a former state university president who was the brains behind the plan were not doing much talking at an initial dinner meeting in the spring of 2013 until the table chatter changed.

Others at the dinner labored to keep the conversation going while Louis Ciminelli, the chief executive at LPCiminelli, and Alain Kaloyeros, former president of the State University of New York's Polytechnic Institute, were not particularly vocal, recalled Schuler, then a senior vice president at the company.

He said the "ice got broken through Louis' and Dr. Kaloyeros' love of cars."

By mid-summer of 2013, the men were scouting possible construction sites in Buffalo along with a representative from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office and others, Schuler said.

And now, they're co-defendants along with two other men at a trial resulting from claims by federal prosecutors that Ciminelli and Kaloyeros were part of a conspiracy to ensure that the lucrative jobs worth hundreds of millions of dollars would go to favored developers.

Schuler said Ciminelli liked the get-it-done approach of Kaloyeros and it was well-known at LPCiminelli that Kaloyeros once boasted that if the project was fully in his control: "I would have spent the first billion and been on to the second billion."

Schuler, who pleaded guilty in a cooperation deal with prosecutors last month to charges that he committed fraud during the bidding process, said he was asked in 2013 to suggest wording LPCiminelli would like to be used in the bidding materials distributed to potential developers.

He said the request came from Todd Howe, a consultant hired by LPCiminelli. Howe, who also pleaded guilty to charges and was cooperating with the government, is behind bars after revealing at an earlier corruption trial that he had not revealed all his crimes to prosecutors. He will not be called to testify at this trial.

Schuler quoted Howe often in his hour of testimony Thursday, saying that Howe once boasted that he had mended a once-rocky relationship between the Democratic governor and Kaloyeros by stressing to Kaloyeros the importance of "giving the credit to the governor for good things that are going on."

"By 2013, he was considered a rock star," Schuler said of Kaloyeros.

All four defendants in the trial expected to last at least three more weeks have pleaded not guilty. Schuler resumes testimony Monday.

Lawyers for Kaloyeros and Ciminelli say Howe framed their clients. They say the bidding process that landed Ciminielli's firm a high-tech factory construction job worth over a half-billion dollars was conducted fairly.

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