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Feds want Ciminelli to forfeit $7.6 million in profits

Buffalo businessman Louis P. Ciminelli stands to lose $7.6 million in proceeds from the Buffalo Billion project that led to his fraud and conspiracy conviction.

Federal prosecutors, in a court filing Friday, said the figure represents the amount of money Ciminelli made as a result of his criminal conduct at the giant RiverBend project in Buffalo.

The forfeiture includes $1.6 million that would come directly from Ciminelli and another $6 million intended for his company but now held in an escrow account controlled by the state.

Ciminelli's lawyer said his client agreed to the $7.6 million figure but indicated his obligation to return the money hinges on a federal appeals court affirming either of his two convictions.

"If the government wins the appeal, they get $1.6 million from Lou and they get to fight the state over the $6 million," said defense lawyer Paul L. Shechtman. "If they lose, they get nothing."

Even before Ciminelli was sentenced to prison, prosecutors made it clear they would try to take back some of Ciminelli's profit from the Buffalo Billion project.

At the time, they estimated his company's gross profit at $26 million but acknowledged that was before operating costs were deducted.

"The actual proceeds here that went to Lou Ciminelli are much, much lower," Shechtman said at the time.

The figure revealed Friday is the first indication of what the government believes the businessman made from the $750 million project, now home to a Tesla manufacturing plant.

At the time of Ciminelli's sentencing in December, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said his office would seek the forfeiture of any net profits that Ciminelli and his two co-defendants – Syracuse developers Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi – received from the state's Buffalo Billion program.

In contrast to Ciminelli, Aiello and Gerardi are being asked to forfeit $898,954 apiece.

Berman said his office also sought a return of money after the conviction of Joseph Percoco, a former top adviser to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

"The government has been consistent in its efforts to seek forfeiture from defendants in this case who personally obtained ill-gotten gains from their crimes," he said in a letter to U.S. District Judge Valerie E. Caproni.

Ciminelli initially challenged the forfeiture but the new court filing indicates the two sides have agreed on a figure if his appeal fails.

Ciminelli was convicted of fraud and conspiracy during a jury trial that cast a spotlight on corruption within Cuomo's Buffalo Billion. He was fined $500,000 and sentenced to 28 months in prison. He is free pending his appeal of his conviction.

Louis Ciminelli sentenced to 28 months in prison after dramatic hearing

 

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