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Keep it or give it away? Politicians split on Ciminelli donations

The guilty verdict against Louis P. Ciminelli in July kicked off a smattering of charitable donations by politicians unloading money from the builder with deep pockets.

Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, for example, disbursed $1,000 he received from Ciminelli by giving $250 donations to charities supporting the Buffalo and Erie County library system, the Botanical Gardens, Erie County Medical Center and Erie Community College.

State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy, D-Buffalo, has so far given $15,000 to such charities as the African Heritage Economic Initiative, the Buffalo Urban League and the WNY Perinatal Bereavement Network, a Kennedy aide said. By year's end,  Kennedy hopes to give away the entire $16,500 he received from Ciminelli over his political career, the aide said.

After Ciminelli was charged in 2016, Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, said that if he was found guilty, she would donate the money she received from him, around $20,000, to an educational charity, after subtracting the costs of the fundraisers he attended. A spokeswoman for Peoples-Stokes says her campaign fund's treasurer is now calculating the sum to donate.

Some political figures started distancing themselves from Ciminelli and his money back in 2016, when the namesake of the LPCiminelli Construction Corp. was charged in a bid-rigging scheme. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who had received $350,000 from Ciminelli, and whose Buffalo Billion program set the stage for the scandal, said he would set the donations aside internally should prosecutors try to claw back any of Ciminelli's ill-gotten gains.

Louis P. Ciminelli, shown after being sentenced to prison, gave generously to local and state politicians over the years. Some of the recipients have made a point of giving the money to charities. Others don't intend to do so. (Jefferson Siegel/Special to The News)

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, whose campaign fund collected  $5,000 from Ciminelli in 2014, said she would do the same. So did Mayor Byron W. Brown, the state Democratic Party chairman upon whom Cimielli lavished $21,500 over nine years.

But Cuomo eventually changed course, agreeing to give his Ciminelli donations to charity. Does the mayor, too, intend to give his Ciminelli money away? Mayoral spokesman Michael DeGeorge said he will be better able to answer the question when the campaign fund's treasurer files the January report with the state Board of Elections. But DeGeorge said the mayor's fund has always made regular donations to charities.

Meanwhile, the judge has asked Ciminelli's lawyers and federal prosecutors to determine the amount of "ill-gotten gains" Ciminelli should be expected to forfeit.

Cuomo is the biggest recipient of campaign funds from Ciminelli, family, companies

Some politicians won't be giving the money back. When Ciminelli was indicted in 2016, Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw, for example, had no plans to give back the $1,250 his campaign fund received. That's still the case today, though Ciminelli has been tried, convicted and sentenced to 28 months in prison, Mychajliw aide Brian Fiume said.

Similarly, State Sen. Patrick Gallivan, R-Elma, won't be giving back the  money Ciminelli gave him because the donations predate the filing of charges against Ciminelli and the construction of the Solar City factory. The federal case sprung from the inside track that a key state official gave LPCiminelli's bids to build the plant.

Buffalo Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder feels his campaign fund has made many donations to charities over the years, far more than the $9,150 that state records show Ciminelli gave him from 2010 to 2014, said Schroeder aide Patrick Curry. So Schroeder doesn't plan to now earmark that amount for nonprofits, Curry said.

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