MANHATTAN (CN) — A powerful developer who poured hundreds of thousands into New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's campaigns posted bail with two of his executives on Monday.
The trio has been accused of corrupting the governor's signature initiative "Buffalo Billion."
Arrested in the early morning of Sept. 22, Louis Ciminelli, the 61-year-old chairman and CEO of LP Ciminelli, is a generous Cuomo donor now cast as a central figure in a prosecution of the governor's most trusted aides and allies.
Dressed in a pin-striped suit for his first appearance in Manhattan federal court, the bald-headed Ciminelli walked out of the arraignment room a free man on Monday alongside two of his top executives: Kevin Schuler, 45, and Michael Laipple, 51.
Their brief bail hearing saw few of the fireworks that greeted Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's charges against them a little more than two weeks ago.
Between December 2009 and January 2014, Ciminelli and his immediate family contributed at least $100,000 to Cuomo's election campaigns, and the developer also hosted a fundraising dinner that added roughly $250,000 to the governor's re-election war chest, prosecutors say.
By the time of that November 2013 fundraiser, LP Ciminelli already had a bid under consideration to become a preferred developer for the "Buffalo Billion" project, according to 80-page court papers.
Announced during Cuomo's 2012 State of the State address, the initiative flushed $1 billion into the western New York metropolis bordering Lake Erie in an effort to restore the bustling economic hub to its former grandeur.
The decline of Buffalo's reputation became apparent at Monday's hearing when U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Ellis momentarily confused the fallen metropolis with Albany, the state capital.
"I apologize for that," the magistrate said. "I know they're different cities."
At a press conference last month, Bharara told reporters that the funds intended for Buffalo instead wound up in the pockets of well-connected firms like LP Ciminelli.
"Companies got rich, and the public got bamboozled," the prosecutor said.
But Ciminelli made few headlines Sept. 22 because of the other high-profile defendants on the docket.
Topping the list of Albany's nine boldfaced names charge that day was Joseph Percoco, Cuomo's reputed former "gatekeeper" and "right-hand man" who also served his father's administration.
Court papers depicted Percoco, 46, imitating characters from "The Sopranos," in referring to alleged bribe payments as "zitti."
Alain Kaloyeros, the 60-year-old president of the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute, was also charged in the same criminal complaint as executives from Syracuse developer COR Development Co. and the energy company Competitive Power Ventures.
Ciminelli's attorney Daniel Oliverio, the chairman of Hodgson Russ LLP, declined comment as he left the courtroom Monday. The CEO posted a $300,000 bond, and signed an agreement limiting his travel to New York, California and Arizona.
Schuler and Laipple each paid a $50,000 bond that also came with similar travel limitations.
An LP Ciminelli spokeswoman said "company officials acted lawfully and professionally."
"We are confident they will be cleared of all charges," she said in a statement.
Their next court date has been scheduled for Oct. 24.
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