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Closing arguments on Monday in corruption trial of Cuomo supporters

Closing arguments are set for Monday in the corruption trial of a former associate of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. His political opponents say the case has highlighted some legal but unsavory practices in New York.

The jury could begin deliberating as early as next Wednesday in the federal corruption trial of the former head of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s economic development programs. Dr. Alain Kaloyeros, the former head of SUNY Polytechnic College, is on trial along with three upstate developers on bid-rigging charges.

The prosecution offered Kaloyeros a plea bargain, which he refused.

The two top officials of Syracuse-based COR Development, Joseph Gerardi and Steven Aiello, along with Louis Ciminelli, the principal of Buffalo-based LPCiminelli, are accused of secretly fixing government requests for proposals - or RFPs - to gain lucrative contracts for their companies. They include the $750 million Solar City factory project in Buffalo.

The developers are also major donors to Cuomo’s election campaigns. Ciminelli gave $100,000 to Cuomo and arranged a fundraiser that netted $250,000. COR officials held events that also gained hundreds of thousands of dollars for the governor, including an event that featured vintage Corvette sports cars. The governor is known to be a fan of the cars.

The donations are not illegal under New York law and Cuomo has not been implicated in the case. But government reform groups say the donations from developers who win lucrative state contracts give - at the very least - the appearance of a conflict of interest.

“It completely looks like pay to play,” said John Kaehny with Reinvent Albany.

Kaehny said the governor and Legislature could ban political contributions from businesses that are competing for state contracts to avoid any potential conflicts.

Cuomo in a 2016 memo, as first reported in the Albany Times Union, said he would stop accepting contributions from companies vying for state contracts, but he did not follow through with the pledge and continues to accept donations. His political opponents in the governor’s race said they would ban the contributions.

Democratic primary challenger Cynthia Nixon wants to close a loophole in the campaign finance laws that allowed COR, LPCiminelli and other businesses to use limited liability companies to skirt contribution limits. She also would ban all donations from corporations. Nixon spoke on the first day of the trial in mid-June outside the Tweed Courthouse in Manhattan, calling New York’s current system “legalized bribery.”

Marc Molinaro, who is running for governor on the Republican ticket, wants to ban state government from awarding economic development contracts to private businesses in the first place. He said he wants to end what he calls a “pervasive culture of corruption.”

“This governor has been given a great deal of discretion to cut checks to private industry,” said Molinaro, who added it’s “emboldened” a culture that encourages attempts to “curry favor” through campaign donations.

Molinaro said many of the companies who have received the state grants are successful already and don’t need tax dollars to help grow their business.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.
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