Jurors in the trial of a former SUNY official and three developers accused of bid-rigging in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s upstate development projects are expected to start deliberations Wednesday after defense lawyers pummeled the government for a weak case in a final set of summations Tuesday.
“They have two pieces of bread and nothing in it, and they’re going to call it a sandwich,” Steve Coffey, the lawyer for Syracuse developer Steven Aiello, told the Manhattan federal court jury that has been hearing evidence since June 18.
“The government has tried to turn this molehill into a mountain,” said Paul Shechtman, the defense lawyer for Buffalo builder Louis Ciminelli, “and I suggest that’s what you do when you don’t have a mountain.”
Former SUNY Polytechnic Institute head Alain Kaloyeros, 62, of upstate Slingerlands, named by Cuomo to kick start his “Buffalo Billion” tech-focused revitalization plan, is accused of steering nearly $1 billion in projects to Ciminelli, Aiello and Joe Gerardi of Syracuse’s COR Development.
The glue of the alleged scheme, was Todd Howe, a lobbyist and former Cuomo aide who, prosecutors have said, collected six-figure consulting fees from Kaloyeros while serving as the “eyes and ears” of Cuomo’s office, as well as from the developers, who were each major upstate donors to the governor.
But Howe, a cooperating witness who has pleaded guilty to bribery, embezzlement and bank fraud, was not called to testify because of credibility problems. Left without a narrator, prosecutors tried to build the case with emails — some later deleted — exchanging nonpublic bid information and testimony from Ciminelli aide Kevin Shuler, who said his firm had an inside track.
In closing arguments, lawyers for Kaloyeros and the developers said pre-bid exchanges of information were not prohibited under fast-track procurement procedures used by the SUNY affiliate managing the projects to cut red-tape for development programs.
“The only thing established here is that my client engaged in a process, commenting on the request for proposals, that is common in the construction industry,” said Gerardi’s lawyer, Milton Williams.
Defense lawyers also repeatedly criticized the government for not calling Howe, warning jurors that his emails had played a role in making some of the exchanges of bid information sound more suspicious than they were.
“Todd Howe, the person whose fingerprints are all over this case, they didn’t call Todd Howe,” said Coffey. “He’s theirs!”
Prosecutors relied heavily on evidence that Kaloyeros and Ciminelli deleted nearly two dozen emails in 2015, after news of the federal investigation broke.
Shechtman said the emails at best implicated Ciminelli’s company, but not him personally — “Being a boss, the CEO, doesn’t make you a criminal” — and said the government was focusing on deletions to try to prove indirectly what it hadn’t proved directly.
“There’s no evidence, none, of Lou Ciminelli’s guilt,” he said, “so they want to argue he was conscious of guilt.”
The projects handed out as part of the alleged scheme include a failed “film hub” near Syracuse, and a solar-panel fabrication plant in Buffalo. U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni finished charging the jury late Tuesday.