Nov 30th - 1:05 pm
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara on Wednesday is meeting with President-elect Donald Trump, a spokesman confirmed this afternoon.
Bharara, a hard-charging prosecutor who has won the convictions of the top legislative leaders in state government, may be on the way out with a new administration taking power in Washington.
Bharara would be leaving, however, amid a high-profile prosecution of a former top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Joe Percoco, as well as former SUNY Poly President Alain Kaloyeros and prominent upstate developers in a bid-rigging case.
Bharara’s departure is not necessarily a fait accompli. While the Justice Department appoints federal prosecutors, the state’s senior senator has sway over those appointments. In this case, it’s still Bharara’s former boss, incoming Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, whom Trump has publicly spoken of well.
Sep 23rd - 3:45 pm
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, making his first public comments since U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s bombshell yesterday charging nine men with ties to the governor with corruption in connection to upstate economic development projects, insisted he had “no idea” about anything untoward taking place in his administration.
“I had no idea about anything that was contained in that complaint,” the governor insisted to reporters. “…These were secondary and tertiary level situations. I was not aware of who some of these people were representing, and who were their business consultants. And to the extent the situations that are laid out in the complaint were breathtaking to me when I read them.”
Cuomo seemed to be of two minds about Alain Kaloyeros, who is facing both state and federal charges alleging that he engaged in bid rigging on contracts worth millions of dollars of taxpayer money and has been suspended without pay from his post as president of SUNY Poly.
Cuomo noted that Kaloyeros had worked for five different governors since starting with SUNY in the 1980s, directing the investment of “billions” of dollars in state money into nanotech, and turning around Albany in the process.
” Mr. Kaloyeros has had a 20 year long career in state government.” the governor said. “He also has done a lot of good for New York State.”
As for Joe Percoco, whom Cuomo called a “a long-time friend of mine, a long-time friend of my family,” the governor reiterated: “I know him about 25 years; my father knows him since he was 19 years old. I said my father would be heartbroken if he read that complaint.”
Cuomo seemed to try to distance himself from this mess by saying that it was SUNY, not his administration, that was responsible for letting the contracts in question using its own procurement process, which is different from the process the rest of state government uses. He announced that the responsibility for letting future contracts would be given to the Empire State Development Corp., run by Buffalo resident Howard Zemsky, which will develop its own procurement process.
The governor also rejected the idea that the RiverBend project – the keystone of the Buffalo Billion – has been “tainted” by this scandal.
“It’s tainted quote unquote; I don’t know what that means in this context,” the governor said, clearly annoyed by the question. “The building is going up. The company is moving in. The jobs are being produced. There’s an allegation that the company may have done something wrong that developed it. Fine. It will go to the courts, there will be a process, there will be a trial and if they did something wrong they will be punished.”
Cuomo also said that these allegedly rigged contracts were “the exception to the rule,” noting the state lets hundreds – if not thousands – of contracts every year without incident or illegal behavior.
“We’re talking about nine charges, which is serious, but they are nine charges; so let’s keep it in focus,” the governor said.
Sep 22nd - 4:55 pm
At the same time Preet Bharara was holding his press conferences, on the other side of the state, three of the men he’s implicated in a pay-to-play scheme were appearing in court. Buffalo developer LPCiminelli executives Louis Ciminelli, Kevin Schuler and Michael Laipple were charged with wire fraud conspiracy and bribery in federal court.
Their attorneys said it’s a very complex case but the bottom line is their clients aren’t guilty.
“The government filed a lengthy complaint as I said in court and they should be ready to go. 79 pages of allegations and I can say this unequivocally, there was no bribery here. There was no crime committed. This is a total rush to judgment and I wish that everyone would hold their judgment until we’re done in this case,” attorney Daniel Oliverio said.
The defendants’ lawyers took turns criticizing the federal government for how Thursday played out. They said media outlets knew about the charges before they did.
“You’re presumed innocent, so to in advance provide information to news segments like Wall Street Journal, New York Times and things like that, in advance to even telling us about that, it runs the risk of jeopardizing their right to a fair trial,” attorney Terry Connors said.
Law enforcement certainly didn’t give the defendants any special treatment, arresting them before 7 a.m. in their homes. They were brought into court in handcuffs, all wearing street clothes.
Ciminelli, the company’s chairman, was in jeans and a t-shirt. The attorneys said they’ve been cooperating with the investigation for more than a year and their clients should’ve been afforded the opportunity to surrender themselves.
Sep 22nd - 1:46 pm
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara this afternoon outlined what he called a “network” of wrongdoers – both inside and out of state government – involved in two complex public corruption schemes that involved individuals close to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, including his former top aide, Joe Percoco.
Unlike in past press conferences, Bharara was careful not to go overboard in his excoriation of Albany. (He has been admonished by a judge in the past for saying too much, too soon).
He repeatedly stressed that the charges in the complaint unsealed this morning are “allegations,” though he also said that he hopes the eight remaining defendants – Todd Howe has already pleaded guilty, and is cooperating with investigators – end up going to trial, so New Yorkers “can see in gory detail what their state government has been up to.”
Bharara said the complaint outlines what he believes is a “systemic problem” in Albany – and he was also quick to note that when he uses the term “Albany,” he means the state government that is located there, and not the city itself, which he called a “wonderful town,” as Mayor Kathy Sheehan has told him “multiple times.”
Bharara was asked if Cuomo himself has any involvement in the case by a reporter who noted that he had once issued a statement absolving the governor of wrongdoing in connection with the early demise of the corruption-busting Moreland Commission. His reply:
“What I can say at this moment is that there are no allegations of any wrongdoing or misconduct by the governor anywhere in this complaint. That’s all I’m going to say.”
When pressed on whether it’s “realistic” to believe that the governor, who has a reputation of being something of a micromanager, did not know what his top aide was up to, Bharara said simply: “It’s not my job to comment on what is realistic or unrealistic.”
Bharara also said that this investigation, “as a general matter,” remains open.
The U.S. attorney was also asked if he believes that the corruption problem in Albany is getting better as a result of all the cases he has brought in recent years – including the successful prosecution of two men who were once among the state’s most powerful political players, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.
“I presume some people have gotten the message and abstained from engaging in criminal activity,” Bharara said. “But we’re as busy as we ever were, in some ways busier…if that’s the metric you use then the assessment is not a positive one.”
Sep 22nd - 1:14 pm
Gov. Andrew Cuomo just released a statement in response to the public corruption charges brought by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara against a number of individuals with close ties to his administration, including his former top aide, Joe Percoco, whom he once described as like a third son to his late father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo.
In the statement, Cuomo does not mention Percoco by name. He severed ties with Percoco, known alternately as the governor’s muscle and right-hand man – perhaps closer to him than anyone else, and someone who followed him from job to job – when allegations of wrongdoing first became public this spring.
Cuomo does not mention anything about Todd Howe, the former lobbyist who is accused by Bharara of being involved in two complex bribing and bid-rigging schemes with Percoco and SUNY Poly head Alain Kaloyeros, also known as New York’s nano czar, who has long been one of the state’s top paid public employees.
Howe also has longstanding ties to Cuomo that date back to his father’s tenure in Albany.
According to the governor, SUNY has “relieved” Kaloyeros of his duties and suspended him without pay. According to Bharara’s complaint, Kaloyeros was earning in the neighborhood of $1.3 million.
Here’s the governor’s full statement:
“I learned this morning of the charges filed by the U.S. Attorney’s office that include a former member of my administration. If the allegations are true, I am saddened and profoundly disappointed. I hold my administration to the highest level of integrity.”
“I have zero tolerance for abuse of the public trust from anyone. If anything, a friend should be held to an even higher standard. Like my father before me, I believe public integrity is paramount. This sort of breach, if true, should be and will be punished.”
“SUNY has rightly relieved Alain Kaloyeros from his duties and has suspended him without pay, effective immediately.”
“This matter is now in the hands of the court, which is exactly where it belongs. My administration will continue to be fully cooperative in the matter as we have been since it began.”
Asked after his press conference whether Cuomo is in any way implicated in this case, Bharara said:
“What I can say at this moment is that there are no allegations of any wrongdoing or misconduct by the governor anywhere in this complaint. That’s all I’m going to say.”
Asked if it was “realistic” to believe that Cuomo, who is known as a very hands-on manager, did not know what his top aide was up to, Bharara replied:
“It’s not my job to comment on what is realistic or unrealistic.”
According to the U.S. attorney, this investigation is ongoing.
Aug 11th - 6:12 pm
U.S Attorney for New York’s southern district, Preet Bharara, has a fan in Carl Paladino. The Buffalo businessman said he’s going to start a foundation to commission a bronze bust of the prosecutor… and he said he’s not joking.
“We’re going to place in the state capitol and I think that would be an appropriate signal to those in state government whenever they walk by it that they better behave themselves,” Paladino said.
Earlier this week, the New York Daily News wrote about how many politicos are expecting Bharara to close cases before the next President takes office. From Paladino’s perspective, there’s no hurry.
“I think Preet Bharara will stay there and stay in that job,” he said. “I don’t think he’s going to be replaced by the Trump campaign and that certainly wouldn’t be my vote if I was asked.”
The developer once had his own private law practice. He sheepishly mentioned someone had suggested to him that he could be the U.S. Attorney for the Western District.
He said he’s not jockeying for that job or any other appointment from a potential Trump White House.
“I’m not particularly interested in being the U.S. Attorney but it would probably be a very fun experience, a lot of low-hanging fruit in New York state.”
May 5th - 2:21 pm
Advocates are asking Governor Cuomo to halt the construction of a power plant in Orange County and using the federal probe into former aide Joe Percoco to make their case.
Protect Orange County says they are planning to upload about 10,000 pages of documents to their website in the next few days. They say some of those documents may tie the project to Percoco through payments made to his wife by Chris Pitts LLC, a company by the same name as a former consultant to the company developing the project.
The group has organized against the project from Competitive Power Ventures because of environmental concerns surrounding the construction of a new plant. They say the approval process has been smooth for CPV because of “public relationships” within the community and state.
Lead agency status was given to the town of Waywayanda Planning Board for the almost $1 billion project rather than the Department of Environmental Conservation, which the group has also called into question. They say aside from their environmental concerns, the approval process has been one-sided.
“What was revelatory was the pattern of indifference,” said Pramilla Malick from Protect Orange County. “I think when we raised issues, the fact that we never got a response was very telling.”
Cuomo has directed his administration to suspend regulatory communications with CPV following the news of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s investigation into Percoco. Construction has already started at the site in Waywayanda, though the plant must still receive final approval from the state.
To operate, the plant still has to be approved for an interconnection to the Marcy South Line through NYPA and a lateral pipeline to the Millennium Pipeline. Both approvals are on hold.
“The CPV plant has not been approved,” Cuomo said Monday. “It’s not like the plant is operating. There was a conditional, early approval. They have to do a final agreement which has never been done.”
Advocates from Protect Orange County say withholding that final approval is not enough. They’re asking for the project to be stopped, and ultimately denied.
“The very first thing one should do is halt construction,” Malick said. “The harm is underway. There is already irreperable harm to the endangered species habitat.”
Though the group did not present clear evidence to reporters that would link Percoco to the power project at a press conference Thursday, they say the federal investigation should be enough to back up their argument.
“Why on earth would you allow a project to go forward when there is now clear suspicion on whether those approvals were proper in the first place,” Malick said.
Advocates also said they had “heard of Percoco” in association to the project, though whether that was before news broke on the investigation or after was unclear.
A spokesman from CPV did not immediately return a call for comment.
Apr 14th - 12:27 pm
Ramapo Supervisor Christoper St. Lawrence has become the latest elected official to be indicted following an investigation by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office.
Bharara on Thursday announced St. Lawrence, a Democrat who ran for lieutenant governor briefly in 2010, faces securities and wire fraud charges in connection to the municipal financing of baseball stadium.
Also being charged in the case is Aaron Troodler, the former executive director of the Ramapo Local Development Corp.
In an indictment released on Thursday morning, Bharara lays out an effort to conceal the scope of budgetary issues facing the financing of a stadium, which had ballooned in cost to taxpayers and misleading statements to investors of municipal bonds.
The case is believed to be the first involving fraud stemming from municipal bonding.
“As alleged, Christopher St. Lawrence and N. Aaron Troodler kicked truth and transparency to the curb, selling over $150 million of municipal bonds on fabricated financials,” Bharara said.
“In doing so, they defrauded both the citizens of Ramapo and thousands of municipal bond investors around the country. The $3.7 trillion municipal bond market is no place for fraud and manipulation; there should be no tolerance for it. Whether you are a publicly listed company or a municipality, you are not allowed to cook the books, plain and simple. And whether you are state legislator responsible for enacting laws or a municipal executive responsible for a town’s finances, you must be accountable.”
The case stems from an effort to build a minor league baseball stadium in Ramapo, Provident Bank Park. The development corporation had issued $25 million in bonds to pay for the construction of the stadium.
But prosecutors, along with Bharara and Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Zugibe, say both St. Lawrence and Troodler misled investors in both bonds for the town and the development corporation in order to hide the state of Ramapo’s budgetary problems through concocting false assets.
At the same time, St. Lawrence inflated the size of the town’s general fund with a series of fake receivables of more than $3 million from 2010 through 2015.
Bharara’s office notes in the indictment FBI agents raided the town hall in May 2013, but only 10 days later St. Lawrence released yet another receivable prosecutors say was fraudulent, which they also said was worth more than $3 million.
Meanwhile, St. Lawrence pumped up the size of the town’s fund balance by more than $12 million through transfers from the ambulance fund between 2009 and 2014.
State law requires that transfers from funds with different taxes can be only be loans, not fungible money. St. Lawrence insisted to auditors and town board members at the time the funds had the same tax base.
Feb 8th - 6:13 pm
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara on Monday in Albany joked that, unlike Bruce Springsteen’s hit song, he’s not looking to run for anything anytime soon.
“Given that Bruce Springsteen is in town: I was not born to run,” said Bharara, an affirmed Springsteen fan, said to the audience groaning at the pun.
Bharara was interview at WAMC’s The Linda performing arts center in Albany, following a day visiting the state’s capital city to attend the Conference of Mayors’s winter meeting as well as the swearing in of Janet DiFiore, the new chief judge.
But Bharara in an interview with WAMC’s Alan Chartock indicated — at first lightly and later more seriously — that he wants to stay in his job as the prosecutor of the Southern District of New York, arguably one of the most high-profile posts in the U.S. Department of Justice.
When it was pointed out that a new president taking office in 2017 will likely appointed their own prosecutors, Bharara joked, “The new president could like me, too.”
Bharara’s success at bringing prominent corruption cases — as well as his urge for state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to push for stringent new ethics measures in the wake of the cases — has led to speculation he would join the ranks of former prosecutors like Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie who jumped into elected office.
But Bharara insisted he loves his current job.
“I think it’s the best job I’ve ever had, it’s the best I ever will have,” he said. “The only thing I ever wanted to be when I went to law school was to be an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York”
Bharara in the forum also defined how a prosecutor’s job should work when it comes to bringing cases or walking away from the ones he can’t make.
“The job of the prosecutor is not to sock up convictions, notch victories in his or her belt,” he said. “It’s to do the right thing, it’s to do justice, to make sure you bring cases that are righteous and walk away from cases that are righteous to walk away from.”
He added: “That’s a nice to go to sleep every night. Why would I ever want to walk away from that?”
As for his favorite Springsteen song, Bharara was unequivocal.
“Thunder Road,” he said. “Thunder Road is the best Springsteen song.”
Jan 29th - 12:36 pm
“I am not,” Bharara said.
Asked if he would considering joining the cabinet as U.S. attorney general should Hillary Clinton win the presidency, Bharara sidestepped the question, but didn’t rule it out.
“I’ll wait till that happens,” he said.
Bharara appeared the criminal justice school’s American Justice System, fielding questions on Wall Street prosecutions, terrorism cases and, of course, political corruption.
In the interview, Bharara defended speaking out on issues like public corruption, which he has been rebuked for in recent years, and compared Wall Street wrongdoing to misdeeds in Albany.
Bharara’s office has successfully prosecuted nearly a dozen political figures and last year secured the convictions of the top two leaders in the state Senate as well as the ex-Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver.
As he has before, Bharara repeated a portion of a transcript from the case of Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos in which his son Adam groused that “it’s like f-ing Preet Bharara is listening to every f-ing phone call.”
“That was a moment that was interesting,” Bharara deadpanned.
More seriously, Bharara said the wiretap in the Skelos case was crucial to securing convictions.
“If we didn’t have the wiretaps with respect to the Senate majority leader, I’m not sure we would have been able to make that case,” he said.
Bharara compared the public corruption cases he’s pursued to the Wall Street malfeasance he’s seen over the years, saying it essentially boils down to the culture of an institution.
“Cultures matter. There’s more corruption in certain firms on Wall Street than others,” Bharara said. “There’s more corruption in certain state Capitols than others. What’s the difference? It’s the same job. I think a lot of that has to do with culture — a culture in which you police yourself, a culture in which people who think bad things are going on come forward and say something.”
At the same time, Bharara — who has been criticized by judges, state lawmakers and others for what they see has grandstanding — defending his willingness to be outspoken on issues like public corruption.
“I think it is ridiculous that a district attorney or a United States attorney who has learned something about what the root causes of crime might be and how the culture might be affected based on the cases were brought wouldn’t say something about it,” Bharara said. “I was invited here for a reason, presumably, and that’s to talk about those things.”
Bharara is scheduled to come to Albany on Feb. 8 to speak at the New York Conference of Mayors winter meeting.