Louis P. Ciminelli, wearing a Park City, Utah, Harley Davidson T-shirt, jeans and flip-flops, appeared in court Thursday to face allegations of bid rigging and bribery.
Ciminelli, chairman and CEO of LPCiminelli, is accused of bribing a former Albany lobbyist in an effort to gain an unfair competitive advantage over other contractors seeking work through Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s upstate development program.
Daniel C. Oliverio, Ciminelli's defense attorney, argued to the judge along with the other defense attorneys for a quick turnaround for the defendants' next court appearance, saying they are eager to defend against the charges.
"I can say this unequivocally – there was no bribery here. There was no crime committed," Oliverio told reporters after the court appearance. "This is a total rush to judgement. I wish everyone would withhold their judgement until we're done in this case."
The prominent developer and two other Ciminelli executives who are charged in the case – Michael Laipple and Kevin Schuler – said little during their initial appearance, but their lawyers were quick to criticize the prosecution for how it handled their arrest.
All three defendants were released by U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Roemer and ordered to appear next Monday for a preliminary hearing.
The complaint against Ciminelli accuses him and the other two executives of conspiring with two others – Alain Kaloyeros and Todd Howe – to defraud the state’s taxpayer-financed program.
The allegation is that Ciminelli’s company paid Howe, a former Albany lobbyist, a “consultancy” fee that, in reality, was a bribe intended to help them win contracts from the state. Kaloyeros is president of SUNY Polytechnic Institute.
The complaint, unsealed Thursday morning, also charges Joseph Percoco, one of Cuomo’s longest and closest past advisers.
Ciminelli, Laipple and Schuler appeared in court late Thursday morning, each of them in handcuffs. The three were arrested by FBI agents at about 7 a.m. Thursday at their homes.
[GALLERY: Feds charge Ciminelli and executives today]
Lawyers for all three defendants pointed to media coverage of the case to suggest that the office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara leaked the complaint to The New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
Oliverio, Ciminelli's attorney, said he started getting calls from the two papers before the complaint against his client was unsealed.
“I’m certain they weren’t calling about my subscription" Oliverio told Roemer.
Herbert L. Greenman, who represents Laipple, also complained about the government’s habit of leaking sensitive information to reporters.
"We're prepared to go forward because we feel that these three men are innocent," Greenman said. "They are innocent and they shouldn't be prejudged."
Ciminelli was released on $300,000 signature bond; Laipple was released on $50,000 signature bond; and Schuler was released on his own recognizance. Ciminelli was also ordered to surrender his pistol permit and firearms. All were ordered to surrender travel documents. Additionally, travel restrictions were established for each defendant, and Laipple will be allowed to travel for a family matter this weekend.
Each defendant faces two charges, for which the maximum sentence would be up to 30 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
Laipple, right, leaves courthouse with atty pic.twitter.com/LdzjQFpIz0
— Aaron Besecker (@AaronBesecker) September 22, 2016
None of the three defendants said responded to reporters' questions as they exited the downtown Buffalo courthouse.
Well known throughout the community, Ciminelli is active in politics and civic and charitable affairs.
He chairs the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Board of Trustees and serves as a trustee at the Albright-Knox Gallery. He also is a former chairman of the New York Power Authority and the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, and chairman emeritus of 43 X 79 – a group of local business executives.
Ciminelli and his family live in Buffalo.