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Editorial: A fair sentence for Louis Ciminelli

U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Caproni had a lot to consider when deciding upon a sentence for Louis B. Ciminelli. There were the letters from dozens of supporters asking for leniency, pointing out Ciminelli’s extensive acts of philanthropy, as well as the declining health of the 63-year-old Buffalo developer.

None of that changed the fact that in July a jury convicted him in a bid-rigging scheme connected to the Buffalo Billion program.

“I hope this sentence will be heard around the state,” Caproni said, after sentencing Ciminelli to 28 months in prison, plus a $500,000 fine. He could have received up to 11½ years in prison. Ciminelli is free while awaiting his appeal.

It’s a sad end to a tragic story of a generous community benefactor who barged across a legal line and, in so doing, harmed the city he says he loves. With the trial’s convictions, the Buffalo Billion is forever linked to political corruption. Who knows how the aftershocks of that judgment will affect Buffalo going forward?

Nevertheless, the conviction and sentencing do send the necessary message that corruption involving public money will be prosecuted and punished in New York State. Anything less than prison time would have sent a dangerous message.

Ciminelli was found guilty with three others – former SUNY Polytechnic Institute head Alain Kaloyeros and two Syracuse-area businessmen – of fraud and conspiracy. Prosecutors said they plotted to steer state contracts to Ciminelli’s firm, including one for building the RiverBend facility in South Buffalo that houses a Tesla plant.

Caproni on Monday noted that Ciminelli was a participant in the scheme, but was less culpable than Kaloyeros and Joseph Percoco, the former state aide convicted in an earlier Buffalo Billion case.

Kaloyeros, convicted on two counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, faces up to 60 years in prison when he is sentenced Dec. 11.

Still, the judge said, Ciminelli’s scheme to win the RiverBend contract amounted to a serious crime. Evidence at the trial showed he worked with Kaloyeros to tailor the bidding process on the RiverBend project to favor his company, LPCiminelli.

Caproni further noted that Ciminelli showed “not an ounce of contrition” throughout the case.

Prosecutors demonstrated that Ciminelli tried to destroy electronic evidence before the trial. “You knew what you were doing when you deleted your Gmail account,” Caproni told him Monday.

Ciminelli, a major benefactor of the Buffalo Philharmonic and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, has already paid a substantial personal price for what a jury determined was his wrongdoing. In addition to the embarrassment of his arrest, trial and conviction, Ciminelli suffered the closure of his development company, LPCiminelli. Should his lawyers get his conviction overturned on appeal, his reputation in the community is forever compromised.

And his financial penalties are not finished. The judge ordered Ciminelli’s lawyers and prosecutors to determine how much the developer profited from the bid-rigging, an amount he would be forced to forfeit. His company was paid $26.25 million for the RiverBend project.

Ciminelli has been diagnosed with a terminal form of bone marrow cancer that’s expected to claim his life in eight years or less. His two-plus years in prison would be served at the Federal Medical Center in Fort Devens, Mass.

It’s a sad state of affairs for a former Buffalo success story.

Gary Loeffert, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Buffalo field office, said Ciminelli’s case is a “teachable moment” for anyone who seeks to make illegal profits from the government.

“Mr. Ciminelli’s actions have cost him his freedom,” Loeffert said. Others should pay attention.

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