Report raises questions about Buffalo Billion spending by another Ciminelli

A new report from a nonprofit watchdog group is raising questions about a second Ciminelli family-owned construction company and its ties to the ongoing federal probe into Buffalo Billion spending.

The report, published Wednesday morning by the Public Accountability Initiative, raises concerns over the involvement of executives at Ciminelli Real Estate in the bidding process for the right to be lead developer on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s key project in his Buffalo Billion initiative. The company is owned by Paul Ciminelli, the brother of Louis Ciminelli, who is the chairman and CEO LPCiminelli, a company that has been subpoenaed and is reported to be under scrutiny as part of the probe.

Ciminelli Real Estate representatives and a spokesperson for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Paul Ciminelli and Dennis Penman, the company’s vice president, both served on boards of public entities that were party to the bidding process and both are campaign contributors to Cuomo, according to the report. In addition, Paul Ciminelli, Penman and two other Ciminelli Real Estate executives, Robert McDonnell and James Gottsine, were listed as participants in the bidding process on behalf of LPCiminelli, the company the eventually won the rights to be lead developer on the Riverbend site project. Developers are nearing completion on a massive solar panel factory there to be operated by SolarCity.

During the time that the bidding process was playing out, Paul Ciminelli sat on the board of Empire State Development, the state agency the acts as a conduit for most of the funding for the governor’s major economic development initiative, according to the report. While he recused himself of votes directly tied to he and his brother’s business he never disclosed his direct involvement in the bid to win the Riverbend contract at the time of those votes, according to the report, and the authors ask whether his position on the board gave their companies and unfair advantage over other developers.

Penman, who remains the vice chairman of the Buffalo Urban Development Corporation’s board of directors, also did not disclose his role in the bidding process when that city agency voted to sell the land where the factory is being built to Fort Schuyler Management Company. Fort Schuyler is the state-controlled nonprofit that runs some the state’s larger upstate economic development projects, including the Riverbend site.

Penman, after consulting with the board’s counsel, did participate in a unanimous vote to approve the land sale.