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Long IslandPoliticsSpin Cycle

Feds told NY official’s call on project ‘borders on ... a threat’

ALBANY — A top attorney for the City of Syracuse has told U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara that a Cuomo administration official attempted to intervene on behalf of a developer — now embroiled in bid-rigging allegations — in an effort that “borders on being a threat,” according to a copy of the letter obtained Tuesday.

At issue is a recorded message from a state Department of State official delivered to the chief of staff of Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner and involving COR Development of Syracuse.

COR is one of a number of companies that is the subject of a criminal complaint filed last week by Bharara; the prosecutor has charged Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s former top aide and eight others, including COR executives, in a bid-rigging scheme involving projects across upstate New York.

In a letter dated Sept. 29, John A. Sickinger, senior assistant corporation counsel to the Syracuse mayor, said the Cuomo administration tried to secure a building code variance for COR after the city turned it down, saying the plan violates the state fire-safety code. That prompted a phone call from a Cuomo administration official, the attorney said.

“Give me a call about this because: One, it doesn’t need a variance; Two, if it does go before a variance board, I don’t want the city to be in a very poor light, ’cause they won’t suffer fools and it won’t look good in the newspapers,” the state official said, according to the audio of the voicemail call heard by Newsday.

The speaker on the voicemail identified himself as Thomas DiTullio. He is the senior building construction engineer at the Department of State Building Standards and Codes office in Syracuse.

The Cuomo administration said the official was suspended.

“The New York Department of State first learned of these troubling allegations yesterday,” the department said in a written statement. “We take the conduct of our employees very seriously. This employee has been suspended pending a full review of the matter.”

COR Development is one of the subjects of Bharara’s federal investigation, which includes an indictment against Joseph Percoco, a former top aide to Cuomo and longtime associate of the governor who operated as a lobbyist for developers on state projects. The probe is examining some major projects that benefited from millions of dollars in tax breaks and aid through Cuomo’s economic development initiatives.

Among its projects, COR is developing the Inner Harbor in Syracuse.

COR spokeswoman Maggie McKeon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter, which was first reported by the Albany Times Union.

The U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment.

The Syracuse counsel said in the letter to the federal prosecutor,“In light of the allegations contained in the criminal complaint your office filed . . . a matter which directly involves COR, including its officers willingness to ‘call in favors’ from the New York State administration, and resort to other improper means to obtain favorable state action, we believe (the voicemail) to be highly improper.”

Sickinger added: “The city sees no legitimate reason why a fire code variance application would be the subject of unfavorable media scrutiny of the city, unless the state or COR intended to ‘leak’ false information to the media to attempt to injure the city.”

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