ALBANY – In his years as a prominent Buffalo businessman, Louis Ciminelli made some enemies, but he made lots of friends, spreading his time and money around to cultural groups, providing steady union jobs on his many projects and enjoying close ties with politicians across party lines.
Now, as Ciminelli faces a possible prison sentence being handed down in a couple weeks, those friends and family are coming to his defense.
Lawyers for the convicted former construction titan have turned to dozens of big and small players in the Buffalo community to try to convince a federal judge not to sentence him to any prison time when Ciminelli learns his fate later this month.
From siblings and his children to political, cultural and business figures came pleas to U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Caproni to show leniency for Ciminelli, who was convicted last summer in a federal corruption case that found the Buffalo Billion solar plant project at RiverBend was the product of a rigged bid.
Ciminelli, facing a possible 20-year prison term on his wire fraud conspiracy and wire fraud convictions when he is sentenced Nov. 28, is not the person portrayed in testimony as a villain who ripped off taxpayers, according to 110 pages of letters the judge received this week.
Ciminelli is a “warm, compassionate and an honorable person," wrote Monte Hoffman, a cellist who has played with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra for 55 years.
The BPO was one of several major cultural arts organizations that Ciminelli donated heavily to and served on top board spots.
“The musicians of the Buffalo Philharmonic and I love and respect Lou dearly. Please allow us to offer our heartfelt plea for leniency in his sentencing," wrote JoAnn Falletta, the BPO music director.
From the world of politics and lobbying came a letter from former Buffalo Mayor Anthony Masiello, who told the judge that he and Ciminelli are not close friends and that they come from rival political parties. Masiello is a Democrat, Ciminelli a Republican.
“However, I can tell you with certainty that prior to the events at issue in this case, Louis Ciminelli enjoyed an unblemished reputation – one that was second to none with respect to providing service to the Western New York region," Masiello wrote the judge.
“Judge, my humble request is you take into consideration the many great things Louis Ciminelli has done for people, organizations and the community throughout his life," wrote former Republican U.S. Rep. Thomas Reynolds.
Ciminelli’s allies penned letters of ways he helped employees; one ex-LPCiminelli worker recalled how Ciminelli told her to take two months off with pay after she adopted a child from Guatemala.
Ciminelli’s many outside positions came up often. He led the New York Power Authority during the administration of Gov. George Pataki. That was recalled in a letter by Daniel Wiese, the former head of Pataki’s State Police security detail who would go on to work under Ciminelli when he ran the state power agency.
“He cared deeply for the Albright-Knox and its future, but his broader commitment was and is to the quality of life in Buffalo, his hometown," wrote Janne Siren, director of the museum, and Thomas Hyde, a former board president. Ciminelli served on the museum’s board for eight years until the bid rigging scandal broke.
Other letter writers included Donald K. Boswell, president and CEO of public television station WNED and radio station WBFO, and Anthony Bannon, director emeritus of the Burchfield Penney Art Center.
The letter-writing started off with a brief note from Ciminelli’s mother, Rosalie. “He is my first born, and he spent the majority of his career, from a young age, working for the family business … I respectfully ask for your consideration of leniency for my son, Louis P. Ciminelli, who has been convicted of a felony," she wrote.
Ciminelli's second wife, Ann Louise Ciminelli, told the judge of how she went to a local Salvation Army shelter last Christmas and met a young boy who wanted only a pillow as a gift. The next day, she said, Louis Ciminelli donated 77 pillows, bedding and towels for the people staying at the 77-bed shelter.
Ciminelli’s health was a recurring theme in many of the letters. The trial of Ciminelli and others accused in the bid-rigging case, including former SUNY Polytechnic Institute head Alain Kaloyeros, who also was convicted in July, was delayed after his lawyers said Ciminelli had been diagnosed with a “significant" health problem. At the time, they declined to discuss the specifics.
In the package of letters sent to the judge, specifics were revealed about Ciminelli's January 2017 diagnosis – multiple myeloma, in which cancer cells “accumulate in the bone marrow (and) crowd out healthy cells," Paul Shechtman, Ciminelli’s lawyer wrote to Caproni this week.
The lawyer said Ciminelli had a stem cell transplant, was confined to his home in 2017 in a sterile environment and today is on a three-drug regime. With the cancer now in remission, Shechtman raised concerns that Ciminelli will be denied access to a “camp” prison facility, such as a minimum security one in North Carolina that has an on-site oncology unit.
“We recognize that the 'Buffalo Billions case' has garnered state-wide notoriety and that corruption in New York State government is not to be taken lightly. New York’s citizens deserve far better than they have received. But that does not mean that a prison sentence is necessary for Louis Ciminelli. Lou’s conviction has already taken a heavy toll," noting that Ciminelli’s company had to lay off more than 200 people after the scandal erupted.
“Given his health issues, even a short prison sentence could take a significant portion of his life,’’ his lawyer wrote.
Two physicians who have treated Ciminelli – one from the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center in Phoenix, the other from the head of the International Myeloma Foundation in North Hollywood, Calif. One said he is in excellent condition today; the other said a patient with the disease Ciminelli has can generally expect a life expectancy of 7 years.
Other leniency requests include letters from Aphonso O’Neil-White, former head of BlueCross, BlueShield of Western New York; Patti L. Stephen, executive director of Buffalo Prep; Peter Hunt of Hunt Real Estate Corp.; David Dunkelman, recently retired as head of Weinberg Campus; former First Niagara Financial Group head Gary Crosby; Sam Capitano, a labor union leader whose members have worked on LPCiminelli projects; Robert T. Brady, the former Moog Inc., president; restaurateur Paul Jenkins; Summer Street Capital Partners’ Michael McQueeney; and BPO board member Cindy Abbott Letro.
One letter was sent by dozens of former LPCiminelli workers.
“On fair view, the evidence against Mr. Ciminelli was not strong. This is not the time, however, to re-litigate his case," Schechtman, his lawyer, wrote. "It is the time to demonstrate what has been so exemplary about Mr. Ciminelli’s life."