ALBANY – A federal judge Tuesday rejected attempts by four of the Buffalo Billion defendants to move next year’s corruption trial to Buffalo, keeping the high-profile case in lower Manhattan instead.
In a 48-page order, U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Caproni issued a series of legal rejections against defense lawyers in the Buffalo Billion case, including bids to dismiss the indictments against the defendants and to change the case’s venue to Western New York.
Caproni called the venue change request “insufficient,’’ siding with prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan that keeping the case in New York City is appropriate because some of the alleged crimes included emails and calls between the Buffalo defendants and individuals in New York City.
The defendants in the second of two trials coming out of the corruption probe argued that Buffalo is “the center of gravity” in the case brought against three former executives from LPCiminelli, the Western New York contractor, and Alain Kaloyeros, the former Albany-based head of SUNY Polytechnic Insittute. Kaloyeros was the point person for major high-tech economic development programs okayed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The defendants, including Louis Ciminelli, the former head of the Buffalo firm, also argued that many of the witnesses in the case are from Western New York, that it will be more expensive to have the trial in Manhattan and that they will lose “familial support” in a trial based so far from home.
Caproni was having none of it. The venue of the trial, expected to begin next June, is based on an assumption that the charges in the indictment – which alleges crimes occurred in the Southern District of New York – is correct. She said the location of some of the alleged crimes, which include wire fraud and bribery, are “sufficient” to keep the case in her courtroom in Manhattan. She said requests by prosecutors to keep the case in New York City “comport with Circuit (case) precedent on venue.’’
While three of the defendants live in Buffalo and some witnesses reside in the Buffalo area, “there are also important witnesses elsewhere,’’ the judge wrote. Besides the former LPCiminelli executives and Kaloyeros, the summer trial will also include two defendants from a Syracuse development company.
“And while certain relevant events allegedly took place in Buffalo, other events relative to the allegations against the …. defendants took place outside of Buffalo,’’ she wrote. She added that concerns about the impact on the defendants’ business “are moot” because they resigned from LPCiminelli. She noted also that New York City is a transportation hub and that the case is already scheduled so there will be no concerns about caseload impact on the court’s docket.
“While the court is sympathetic to the defendant’s position, it finds these concerns ultimately unpersuasive,’’ the judge wrote regarding defendants’ claims about their family obligations in Buffalo and the need for family emotional support during the trial.
The judge also ruled on other issues, rejecting a whole series of requests from defense lawyers in both the mid-year Buffalo Billion trial and the one starting Jan. 8 that features a bribery and extortion scheme allegedly involving Joseph Percoco, a longtime advisor to Cuomo, as well as three business executives from two companies with business matters before the Cuomo administration.
Defense lawyers in the two cases had argued, among other things, that the corruption indictments should be dismissed. They used recently decided cases in other federal trials, as well as the U.S. Constitution, as ammunition. They attacked specific charges, such as what they claimed were incorrect wire fraud allegations.
Defense lawyers argued that Percoco – assigned temporarily away from his top state job to serve as chairman of Cuomo’s re-election campaign in 2014 – was not a government official during a period when some of the alleged bribery scheme occurred. They sought to bounce evidence contained on emails seized from Ciminelli. And they tried to convince the judge that pre-indictment publicity by former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara prejudiced the grand jury that considered the cases.
Caproni tossed all of those defense motions.
“A defendant challenging the sufficiency of an indictment on a motion to dismiss faces a high hurdle,’’ Caproni wrote.