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Lawmaker says investigation into Buffalo Billion invigorates need for Albany ethics reform

Ashley Hirtzel

A project spearheaded by Governor Andrew Cuomo is getting a closer look by Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. The Buffalo Billion – known for spurring the development of South Buffalo’s SolarCity factory, as well as other regional investment projects – is under investigation for the ways in which its funds were allocated.

State Assemblyman Mickey Kearns said the situation is particularly alarming.

"When I see the words 'defrauded, improper lobbying, undisclosed conflicts of interest,' that definitely concerns me because this has been the centerpiece of a project that has brought many types of development, has leveraged private investment in that area,” said Kearns.

Bharara gained notoriety over the past couple of years for taking on Albany corruption – efforts which Kearns applauds.

"I think Preet Brarara has done an unbelievable job taking on a very powerful Sheldon Silver, a very powerful Senate majority leader. The way things work in Albany is its three people in a room that make decisions, and I think that needs to change."

Kearns said the Buffalo Billion case emphasizes the need for a new approach in the capitol, and he believes that the Assembly will make ethics reform a primary issue when they head back to Albany.

"I know that's a top priority of many of the members there, and I'm looking forward to really having a good conversation about changing what we're doing in Albany."

Cuomo has hired former federal criminal prosecutor Bart Schwartz to oversee an internal investigation into the allocation of funds. Schwartz indicates that the state may have been defrauded by lobbyists or state employees.

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