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AG eyes SUNY Polytechnic, dorm developer, source says

This Sept. 2, 2015, photo shows a sign

This Sept. 2, 2015, photo shows a sign at the Colleges of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute in Albany. Credit: AP / Mike Groll

ALBANY — State investigators are looking at communication between SUNY Polytechnic President Alain Kaloyeros and Joseph Nicolla, a member of the college’s board and the CEO of the company selected to build a dormitory for the campus, as part of a probe into potential bid-rigging, a source said Monday.

Nicolla’s company, Columbia Development of Albany, was the sole bidder for the 500-student dormitory project now being investigated by state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. Soon after SUNY Polytechnic was subpoenaed by both the attorney general and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, the school announced in November it would re-bid the dorm project.

Nicolla said he received a phone call in what he believes was 2015 and was asked to join the SUNY Polytechnic Foundation board of trustees, but he doesn’t remember who nominated him, said company spokesman Christopher Bombardier. Nicolla said he never attended or participated in a meeting of the board, which raises money for the nanoscience college, Bombardier said.

Bombardier said Nicolla in his role on the foundation couldn’t have influenced the awarding of the contract by SUNY Polytechnic’s nonprofit arm, Fuller Road Management Corp., which Kaloyeros headed until February.

A spokesman for SUNY Polytechnic didn’t respond to a request for comment Monday.

Last fall, SUNY Polytechnic pulled the dormitory project bid after local media outlets reported that Columbia was the lone bidder and that a Columbia subsidiary had bought property nearby before the project was put to bid. Columbia at the time told the Albany Times Union the dorm project and the land purchases were unrelated.

Columbia Development, its subsidiaries, Nicolla and his relatives have contributed more than $150,000 to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo since 2009, state Board of Elections records show.

The attorney for Kaloyeros and SUNY Polytechnic, Richard Strassberg, said last week that it has been cooperating with the investigation since it began in September 2015 and “based on our own investigation, we have seen no evidence of impropriety by anyone at Fuller Road or SUNY Poly.”

Columbia Development said it is cooperating and is confident no wrongdoing will be found.

Acknowledgment of the investigation comes just days after federal prosecutors subpoenaed Cuomo’s “executive chamber” — the official name of his office — regarding projects involved in the “Buffalo Billion” economic initiative and a proposed power plant in the Hudson Valley.

Federal and state investigators last fall subpoenaed SUNY Polytechnic and Empire State Development Corp., New York’s economic development. An ESDC memo subsequently made public said the investigation was “criminal in nature.”

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