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.

SUNY Poly and its founding president, Alain Kaloyeros, have played a significant role in driving and overseeing Cuomo’s economic development projects in Buffalo and elsewhere. Its nonprofit affiliate, Fort Schuyler Management Corp, oversees the Buffalo Billion projects.

As Associate Vice President for Innovation Infrastructure and Resources at SUNY Poly, O’Brien appears to have significant decisionmaking authority at the institution. According to his profile on the SUNY Poly website, O’Brien “is responsible for coordination, management and oversight of the planning, design, construction and operation of public private research, development, education, and commercialization facilities.”

O’Brien served on the five-person team that evaluated bids submitted by Buffalo-area developers for the SolarCity project by virtue of his position at SUNY Poly, according to documents from Fort Schuyler.

However, it is unclear whether O’Brien was similarly involved with approving bids from his former employer, CHA. According to the Buffalo News, CHA was pre-selected to work on the SolarCity project before construction firm LPCiminelli was picked as developer. Additionally, a contract executed between Fort Schuyler and LPCiminelli indicates that Fort Schuyler selected CHA as architect for the AMRI project.

Fort Schuyler has not released any of its contracts with CHA, or any documentation of how it selected CHA for the Solar City and AMRI projects. Late last week the board of directors announced that the organization would begin complying with New York’s Open Meetings and Freedom of Information laws, though so far Fort Schuyler has not yet responded to records requests seeking information about its contracts with CHA and whether O’Brien had any role approving them.

CHA has other ties to SUNY Poly, as well – it is headquartered at a SUNY Poly office in Albany called the Smart Cities Technology Innovation Center, and it has received contracts for other SUNY Poly projects.

Questions for further reporting:

  • How was CHA selected by Fort Schuyler Management Corp for the SolarCity and AMRI projects?
  • What other SUNY Poly-related projects did CHA receive contracts for?
  • What role did Thomas O’Brien play in the selection of CHA for any contracts it received?
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