A key cooperating witness in the bid-rigging trial of former SUNY official Alain Kaloyeros testified Monday that the Buffalo construction company where he worked was given the “inside track” on a big chunk of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s upstate development funding long before bidding.
“From my perspective we were in the driver’s seat,” Kevin Schuler, a former executive at LP Ciminelli of Buffalo, told Manhattan federal court jurors. “ . . . I thought our position was extremely secure.”
Kaloyeros, 62, of Slingerlands, the creator of SUNY Polytechnic Institute, is charged with conspiracy and wire fraud for allegedly steering nearly $1 billion in projects to Ciminelli owner Louis P. Ciminelli and Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi of Syracuse’s COR Development.
Prosecutors argued before trial that Kaloyeros’ motive was to curry favor with Cuomo by hiring lobbyist and former Cuomo aide Todd Howe and following his advice to steer projects to Ciminelli and COR, two of the governor’s biggest upstate campaign donors and both clients of Howe.
Testimony on that claim could have embarrassed Cuomo, running for re-election, but Schuler on Monday unexpectedly finished his direct testimony mentioning campaign donations only once — volunteering a passing reference that he discussed “fundraising for the governor” with Howe.
Prosecutors didn’t pursue that reference.
As a result, jurors have heard testimony that Kaloyeros did favors for Howe’s clients and Howe helped improve Kaloyeros’ standing with Cuomo, but have not heard allegations that the Ciminelli firm was pressed to raise $250,000 while its bid was under consideration, or that Howe told Schuler the donations had been okayed by Cuomo’s campaign.
Lawyers familiar with the case said no other prosecution witnesses were likely to testify about donations, eliminating evidence that the defense saw as highly damaging. Defense lawyers had argued that without Howe, a cooperating witness who is not being called because of credibility questions, no one could have shown Kaloyeros knew about donations.
Schuler, in his second day on the witness stand, said Howe and Kaloyeros engineered bid specifications tailored to fit the Ciminelli company to make sure it eventually won a $750 million state contract to build a solar panel factory as part of the “Buffalo Billions” development plan.
In one case, he said, information he sent along about Ciminelli’s to serve as a “single point of accountability” appeared verbatim in the state’s Request for Proposals. “It’s my language,” he testified.
In another, he said, he passed along a brochure describing Ciminelli’s 50 years of experience in the Buffalo area, and the specifications required a company headquartered in Buffalo with 50 years experience. He recalled a conversation with Ciminelli’s marketing director.
“I said I think someone put this in to help us,” Schuler testified. “I thought that was pretty good, and I had never seen a requirement like that before.”
Later, he said, defendant Louis Ciminelli heard about the provision and got “hot” about how obvious it was, saying, “They put a requirement in for what? That’s the kind of thing that will get an RFP thrown out.”
The 50-year provision was changed to 15 years before bids were submitted, and defense lawyers say it was a typographical mistake that was corrected.
The trial is scheduled to resume on Tuesday.