News and Commentary

NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo And Solar City: Corruption?

There’s something rotten in the state of New York, particularly the city of Buffalo, and there may be some connection to New York governor Andrew Cuomo.

SolarCity’s new solar panel factory in Buffalo, New York, a 1.2 million square foot building, was part of a January 5, 2012, pledge by Cuomo for a $1 billion five-year economic development plan for the city. 1,460 direct factory jobs were promised.

But only a week ago, two aides to Cuomo, among others, were charged in corruption and fraud cases; U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara charged, “Behind the scenes they were cynically rigging the whole process so that the contracts would go to handpicked ‘friends of the administration’—‘friends’ being a euphemism for large donors. Through rigged bids, state contracts worth billions of dollars in public development monies, meant to revitalize and renew upstate New York, were instead just another way to corruptly award cronies who were willing to pay to play.”

The criminal complaint states that Cuomo reaped numerous campaign contributions from people connected to the bribe-paying companies once the businesses gained state projects. One company, LPCiminelli, was run by “Cuomo mega-donor” Louis Ciminelli, who allegedly offered bribes to Todd Howe, who is associated with Cuomo. Ciminelli was given the $750 million contract to build the SolarCity plant.

According to the Buffalo News, Bharara stated, “the state’s bidding process for the factory being built for SolarCity at RiverBend in South Buffalo turned into a ‘criminal’ enterprise that favored LPCiminelli, where company executives were given inside information about how the deal was to be awarded.”

According to Cuomo’s deal with SolarCity, New York owns the building and equipment with SolarCity leasing it. Before the building was complete, jobs were cut from 1460 to 500. The Investigative Post reports SolarCity says the jobs will be regained, but most will not be at the Buffalo plant.

The Buffalo News reports Solar City is facing a “cash bind,” even though it received billions in federal and state grants and tax credits.

Doug Muzzio, a professor of public affairs at Baruch College, said of Cuomo’s possible involvement, “It is almost inconceivable the governor didn’t know what was going on. And if he didn’t know what was going on, you can argue he should have known.”