SUNY Poly administrator who evaluated developer bids worked for decades at CHA

An engineering firm targeted in federal investigations of potential bid-rigging in New York State enjoyed an especially cozy relationship with one of the state officials who evaluated some Buffalo Billion developer bids, LittleSis has learned.

The firm, CHA (formerly known as Clough Harbour & Associates), was in the news last month because it paid consulting fees to a top aide to Governor Cuomo, Joe Percoco, and also received contracts through the Buffalo Billion, Cuomo’s signature economic initiative in western New York. Additionally, CHA has donated over $200,000 to Cuomo and his lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul.

What hasn’t been reported: CHA also has strong ties to an official at SUNY Polytechnic who was directly engaged in evaluating Buffalo Billion developer proposals.

The official, Thomas O’Brien, joined SUNY Poly in 2013 after a 30-year career at CHA, most recently as a senior vice president and group manager. He is also tied to the company through his family: his daughter, a college student, indicates that she is an intern at CHA on her social media accounts.

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Hochul raised $35k from Buffalo Billion contractors now under investigation

Campaign finance records show that in early August 2014 Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul brought in more than $35,000 from at least eight people and businesses named in subpoenas in the investigation into Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion initiative. The donations coincide with a private fundraiser Hochul held at a Buffalo law firm, suggesting that numerous beneficiaries of the Buffalo Billion program all gathered with Hochul in Buffalo to donate to her and Cuomo’s campaign.

On August 4, 2014, Hochul told a central New York newspaper that she was going to make economic development a major focus of her campaign as Cuomo’s running mate. “I have a good handle on economic development issues for sure from my time in Congress, so we’ll be laser focused on that issue,” Hochul told Canandaigua’s Daily Messenger.

Photo via Giancarlo's Restaurant Instagram
Photo via Giancarlo’s Restaurant Instagram

The next day, Hochul held a fundraiser at the headquarters of Buffalo law firm Phillips Lytle LLP, and, over the following two days, Hochul’s fundraising committee reported $333,741 in donations, more than any other three-day stretch in her campaign. Tens of thousands of dollars of the contributions during that period came from people and businesses that had benefitted from Cuomo’s economic development programs, including the Buffalo Billion.

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Mapping the players in the Peabody Energy bankruptcy

Peabody Energy – the world’s largest private sector coal corporation – filed for bankruptcy in April, the latest in a series of major coal company collapses. As Peabody’s bankruptcy hearings unfold, there is growing concern amongst environmental, labor, and indigenous justice groups that the company will use the bankruptcy process to pay back their big bank and hedge fund creditors and give bonuses to their white collar employees, but shirk financial responsibilities for environmental cleanups and pension and healthcare obligations to retired coal miners.

There are numerous stakeholders with competing interests involved in the Peabody bankruptcy, so some St. Louis activists used LittleSis to create a map detailing the players involved and their power networks.

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Buffalo Billion developer flouted New York State disclosure laws

Buffalo developer Paul Ciminelli was legally required to file annual financial disclosure statements with New York State during his four-year tenure on the public authority controlling Buffalo Billion spending, Empire State Development (ESD). But Ciminelli’s forms are extremely deficient for the first two years he served on the board and missing for the second two. And New York State’s ethics watchdog appears to have done nothing to compel Ciminelli to file an accurate statement.

The statements require disclosure of income, contracts, assets, and other financial interests and in Ciminelli’s case could have shed some light on the nature and scale of his interests – and conflicts of interest – as a major Buffalo developer and ESD board member. As we reported last week, Ciminelli has benefited significantly from the Buffalo Billion, which is now under federal investigation (LPCiminelli, run by his brother Louis, has received a subpoena in that investigation). In his position on ESD’s board, Ciminelli recused himself from Buffalo Billion funding votes but never disclosed the nature of his conflicts.

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Paul Ciminelli and Ciminelli Real Estate’s conflicted Buffalo Billion roles

Though much of the reporting around Andrew Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion project has focused on Buffalo construction firm LPCiminelli, relatively little attention has been paid to another major beneficiary of Buffalo Billion spending: Ciminelli Real Estate.

Owned by Paul Ciminelli, the brother of LPCiminelli chairman & CEO Louis Ciminelli, Ciminelli Real Estate has been involved in four Buffalo Billion projects to date, three of which were awarded while its executives held governance positions at state agencies and donated generously to Governor Cuomo’s campaigns.

While these projects were procured by Fort Schuyler Management Corp (FSMC), a non-profit affiliate of SUNY Polytechnic, their funding came from Empire State Development. Ciminelli Real Estate’s president, CEO, and sole owner Paul Ciminelli sat on the Empire State Development board from 2010 through 2014. The land for the SolarCity project was sold to Fort Schuyler by the Buffalo Urban Development Corporation, where Ciminelli Real Estate Executive Vice President Dennis Penman is vice chair.

Though Ciminelli recused himself from votes that benefitted his and his brother’s companies, he did not leave the room during the deliberation and voting process. Penman raised his affiliation with Ciminelli Real Estate, but was permitted to participate in voting and discussion without recusing.

Neither executive disclosed their participation in LPCiminelli’s bid to the boards they sat on as they were making decisions on the project.

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Republican Convention Host Committee Tied to Company Moving Jobs to Mexico

Yesterday, we looked at the host committee unfurling the carpet in Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention this summer, including three locals with a number of questionable associations. Now we’re examining the Republican National Convention’s host committee chairs, most of whom are connected to an electrical equipment and car parts manufacturer called Eaton Corporation.

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Republican or Democrat? Both parties’ convention host committees represent the 1%

The host committees for both the Republican and Democratic national conventions are composed of wealthy officials who spend their day-to-day lives representing the interests of health insurers, fracking companies, banks and other large corporations.

Host committees are comprised of locals picked by party elites to represent the cities hosting each convention. This year’s Democratic National Convention is in Philadelphia, and features prominent political and business people from the region; likewise, influential Clevelanders sit on the host committee of the Republican National Convention.

Democratic Convention Hosted by Republican Donors, Anti-Obamacare Lobbyists, and Fracking Advocates

As a recent article in The Intercept pointed out, several of this year’s host committee members are hardly Democratic Party devotees. In fact, Independence Blue Cross CEO Daniel Hilferty, former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, and Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen have donated thousands of dollars to Republican presidential and congressional candidates this cycle and actively undermined and lobbied against progressive policies including fracking regulations, Obamacare, and net neutrality regulations.

Click through the map below for details on how this year’s DNC host committee members are donating thousands of dollars to Republicans and undermining progressive causes.

Keep your eyes open for our next blog post on the Republican Nation Convention Host Committee!