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Legal fees for advising governor on state bidding grow to nearly $1 million

ALBANY – The bill for outside lawyers advising the governor’s office on problems related to state contract bidding is getting close to $1 million, according to a new contract the state comptroller’s office approved.

The contract was allowed to grow from a maximum of $750,000 to $950,000 by the end of the year – a 26 percent increase.

Several federal indictments related to the awarding of state contracts, including the plant being built for SolarCity at RiverBend, are expected to be handed up by a grand jury sometime next week.

The Manhattan firm Morvillo Abramowitz Grand Iason & Anello was hired at the end of April, when the FBI and investigators from U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara searched the homes of several people close to Cuomo, including Joseph Percoco, his longtime political, government and personal confidante. It was also the time a subpoena was sent to Cuomo’s office, requesting information about contacts between people working for Cuomo and people and companies getting big economic development deals with the administration.

Eight people were charged nearly two months ago, including Percoco and three top executives with LPCiminelli, the contractors of the SolarCity project at RiverBend that is part of Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion initiative.

‎"As we said, we are assisting the U.S. Attorney’s office in any way we can in their investigation and their prosecution,”said  Richard Azzopardi, a spokesman for Cuomo.

The additional $200,000 in retainer payments to the Manhattan law firm took only one sentence in a two-paragraph amendment letter that Alphonso David, the governor’s in-house counsel, sent to the New York law firm. David wrote the letter in October, and the state comptroller’s office approved the request Wednesday.

The letter contained no explanation why the higher payments – to a ceiling of $950,000 -- are needed, but the amendment did note the addition of payments for several “contract attorneys’’ doing work on the matter, including $73 per hour in overtime.

Elkan Abramowitz is the most expensive of the lawyers, being paid $937.50 per hour. He is the lead partner handling the Cuomo office matter.

The contract includes no specific hiring goal requirements under the state’s Minority Women Business Enterprises program because, as the document states, it is “not practical, feasible or appropriate.’’ The firm is still bound by overall equal employment opportunity laws and rules, however.

The contract period runs from April 29 earlier this year until Dec. 31.

In the first “Whereas” of the contract, it is stated that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office is investigating “the Buffalo Billion Project and the Nano Project and has issued subpoenas and requests for information to the (Executive) Chamber as part of that investigation.’’

The Nano project includes state economic development projects outside the Buffalo area.

The contract also states that the administration is in need of outside legal expertise to assist with fulfilling the subpoena demands by prosecutors and to provide “any other legal advice or guidance” to support the administration’s cooperation with Bharara.

There have been no direct indications that Cuomo himself is a target of the probe that began, in earnest, at least 18 months ago.

 

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