The head of a search committee that interviewed five candidates applying to become Niagara County public information officer said he will recommend Kevin C. Schuler, who pleaded guilty to two felonies in the Buffalo Billion bribery scandal last year.
"The most qualified candidate who applied, obviously, is Kevin Schuler," said Niagara County Legislature Majority Leader Randy R. Bradt, whose committee interviewed the five candidates Monday.
The County Legislature voted 8-5 Tuesday night in favor of Schuler's appointment.
But the prospect of Schuler getting the job drew criticism earlier Tuesday.
"A convicted felon, making him the face of Niagara County? I don't know any other government that would even consider doing that," said Legislator Jason A. Zona, the county Democratic chairman.
The $79,003-a-year patronage post was expected to be filled at Tuesday night's meeting of the County Legislature, which has an 11-4 Republican majority. The salary is nearly $8,000 above the highest amount previously paid since the media post was created in 2008.
"If (Schuler) gets it he's going to have to defend it," said Legislator Richard L. Andres Jr., the county Republican chairman. "I would tell anybody who does get that position to go out and talk to the press."
"I'm going to make my case on my qualifications, explain as best I can that I made mistakes, that I learned from them," Schuler said in an interview.
He said he's been doing paralegal work at Connors LLP, the Buffalo law firm headed by Terrence M. Connors, who was his defense attorney.
"I've been out speaking to law students and college groups. I was at (Niagara County Community College) talking about ethics and compliance," Schuler said. "I'm looking to turn the page, and if I'm given the opportunity I will, but I certainly understand those who may have some issues with that."
Investigative Post first reported Schuler was a finalist for the job.
Schuler, 48, of Pendleton, has never held elective office, but he has been an influential figure in Niagara County GOP politics. Schuler is a past chairman of the county Industrial Development Agency board and of the committee that drew new Legislature district borders in 2011.
Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, the only Democrat on the seven-member search committee, said he took part in interviewing four other applicants. But when Schuler walked into the room, Virtuoso said he walked out.
"My integrity's higher than that," Virtuoso said. "I'm not going to interview anybody who was involved in the biggest fraud scandal in New York State history. I don't think that person should have been interviewed."
On May 18, 2018, Schuler, who had been a vice president of LPCiminelli, the Buffalo construction company, pleaded guilty to two felonies, wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, in a federal courtroom in Manhattan.
He and two other executives were charged with paying bribes to a state consultant who ensured that LPCiminelli would be the preferred contractor for the construction of the $750 million RiverBend plant in South Buffalo that eventually became the Tesla solar roof factory. The charge that Schuler himself paid bribes was dropped.
Schuler testified at the trial that resulted in four convictions, including that of his former boss, Louis P. Ciminelli.
On March 15, Schuler was sentenced to two years of supervised release and 400 hours of community service. He served one day in jail after his September 2016 arrest.
GOP legislators David E. Godfrey, Anthony J. Nemi and William J. Collins were named to the search committee but didn't show up for the meeting. Republican Jesse P. Gooch did attend even though he wasn't on the committee.
County Manager Richard E. Updegrove and Legislature Clerk Mary Jo Tamburlin were on the search committee and did attend, Bradt and Virtuoso said.
Bradt said other candidates for the post included Jason Meyers, who was elected last month as a Lewiston councilman; Jacquelyn Langdon, confidential secretary to county Public Health Director Daniel J. Stapleton; Jeffrey E. Flach of Niagara Falls, who ran against Virtuoso in the 2017 election; and Carrie Fick of Lockport.
He said the county did not recruit Schuler for the job, but he applied when it was posted on the county website.
The job was posted last Wednesday with an application deadline of Friday, according to Zona.
The current public information officer, Douglas Hoover, was hired in January. Hoover, whose salary is $57,137, will be leaving county government, Andres said.
Hoover got in trouble in late September, when he emailed and posted on the county website a release promoting the re-election campaign of Legislature Chairman W. Keith McNall, who lost his election. Two sources said he was penalized by a week of unpaid leave.
"I think he was looking someplace else," Andres said.