The corrupt lobbyist at the center of the “Buffalo Billion” upstate bid-rigging trial of former SUNY official Alain Kaloyeros told clients the key to good relations with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was praising him, a key government witness testified Thursday in federal court in Manhattan.
Kevin Schuler, an aide to one of the developers accused of winning a fixed bid, testified that lobbyist and ex-Cuomo aide Todd Howe bragged that his advice helped Kaloyeros overcome early suspicions after Cuomo took office in 2011 and win a lead role doling out money from the governor’s “Buffalo Billion” upstate development program.
“What Todd had done is essentially teach Kaloyeros the importance of giving credit to the governor for the good stuff, keeping the second floor [Cuomo’s Capitol office] up to date on what was going on and giving them credit,” Schuler testified. “By 2013 he was a rock star.”
Kaloyeros, 62, of Slingerlands, the nanoscientist credited with building SUNY into a high-tech economic engine for Albany, is accused of working with Howe to tailor bids for co-defendants Louis P. Ciminelli, the Buffalo builder Schuler worked for, and Steve Aiello and Joseph Gerardi of Syracuse’s COR Development.
Howe, with long-standing ties to the Cuomo administration, earned fees from Kaloyeros through SUNY, and also from both developers, who were two of Cuomo’s largest upstate donors. His February testimony as a prosecution witness led to former Cuomo lieutenant Joseph Percoco’s bribery conviction.
But because of doubts about Howe’s credibility, prosecutors have sidelined him in favor of Schuler, who also entered a plea deal, in the Kaloyeros case. Schuler testified for only an hour on Thursday, setting the stage for further testimony when the trial resumes Monday.
Prosecutors allege Kaloyeros tailored bids to win favor from Cuomo and support for creating a new SUNY Polytechnic Institute campus, and Schuler testified that Howe confirmed that — confiding that Kaloyeros signed him to a $25,000 a month consultant contract as a “bridge.”
Howe told Schuler that suspicion of Kaloyeros, a high-profile and pugnacious figure, ran so high among Cuomo aides in 2011 that at three different times, he was told not to work for Kaloyeros. Cuomo deputy Howard Glaser, an old friend, eventually relented but told Howe “you better keep your thumb on him,” Schuler testified.
Ciminelli, who got a development deal in Buffalo worth $750 million through Kaloyeros in 2014, first bonded with the SUNY scientist over their mutual love of sports cars in a 2013 meeting set up by Howe, Schuler testified, followed by an exchange about spending the development money.
“Lou said, ‘We’ve got a billion dollars for Buffalo and can’t figure out what to do with it,’ ” Schuler recalled. “Dr. Kaloyeros said, ‘The difference is, I would have spent the first billion already and be on the way to spending the second billion and have the governor go find it.’ ”
He testified Ciminelli quickly concluded Kaloyeros would be a “valuable” ally. “Louis wanted it to be known that he wanted to take ownership of the relationship with Dr. Kaloyeros,” Schuler said.