If last year was the Year of Disruption, 2018 was the Year of Corruption.
The significant disruption that occurred last year – the outing of serious sex abusers and the start of the #MeToo movement – continued this year, only now with the Catholic Church at its center. The church has been preoccupied with internal and external investigations of child sexual abuse and victim compensation.
The net snagging sex abusers has widened ever further with revelations of past misdeeds of teachers at Park School, Nichols School and in the Kenmore-Tonawanda school district. Nationally, comedian Bill Cosby was packed off to prison and movie mogul Harvey Weinstein faces a pretrial hearing in March.
Meanwhile, 2018 ushered in evidence of corruption on a scale not seen locally in a long time. Albany, of course, merely continued its parade of prosecutions. But this time, some of those cases hit home.
The Buffalo Billion investigation encircled Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s tightknit administration, including Joseph Percoco, whom the governor’s own father considered a third son. It also ensnared trusted associates such as Alain Kaloyeros, considered the architect of the governor’s upstate projects and Todd R. Howe, a former lobbyist.
Perhaps most startlingly, local developer Louis Ciminelli, was found guilty of fraud and conspiracy in Buffalo’s RiverBend project. The governor has not been implicated.
Meanwhile, at the nation’s capital, phone calls were being made from the White House lawn, catching the attention of federal investigators.
Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, had been attending the June 2017 congressional picnic when prosecutors say he received a phone call about the company he had been touting, Australia-based Innate Immunotherapeutics. The caller had bad news. The company’s experimental multiple sclerosis drug failed in clinical trials. Collins, prosecutors say, called his son and relayed the message. His son, according to the indictment, then shared the news with his fiance and her parents, also investors. Collins, unlike the others, did not sell his shares.
The besieged congressman announced that he was suspending his re-election campaign, only to change his mind. He won by a slim margin against the determined Nathan McMurray, Grand Island supervisor. Collins will likely spend much of the next couple of years focusing on his court case as his trial is set to begin on Feb. 3, 2020. Will he also serve his constituents? Stay tuned.
And, more: Longtime political operative G. Steven Pigeon pleaded guilty to making an illegal campaign contribution to Cuomo and, separately, to bribing former State Supreme Court Justice John Michalek, who resigned in 2016, pleaded guilty and still awaits sentencing.
Former Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman aggressively pursued cases, including one against former state Sen. George Maziarz. The case fizzled, as did Schneiderman’s career. The AG resigned following allegations by several women of physical abuse. Attorney general-elect Letitia “Tish” James now vows to investigate President Trump, his family, et al.
Trump has his own litany of corruption to deal with as onetime members of his inner circle have pleaded guilty to various counts of wrongdoing, while special counsel Robert Mueller III pursues traces of Russian influence.
In politics, change came to Albany, where Democrats took over the Senate, and Washington, where they won the House. In Albany, more legislation is likely to pass – for better or worse. In Washington, investigations of the president will expand. These are changes with consequences.
There were many other developments, of course, some good and some bad. A girl was shunned by her parents for being gay; Tops survived its bankruptcy proceeding; Tonawanda Coke closed; Ralph Wilson's foundation funded a $100 million riverfront park and trails; an Erie County sheriff’s deputy attacked a man.
And we lost valuable citizens, from Aretha Franklin to John McCain to George H.W. Bush. Here, local NAACP President Frank Mesiah died. The Buffalo News’ former Washington Bureau chief Douglas Turner also died. Anthony J. Colucci Jr., an attorney who helped save the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, went where harps are played.
But corruption was The Story. It’s the thread that ran through 2018. It will be interesting to see if 2019 is any different. See you then.