INVESTIGATION: State Money "Withdrawn" From WNY

3:50 PM, Nov 24, 2011   |    comments
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GRAND ISLAND, N.Y. -- Some local groups, including non-profits and schools, learned the hard way that a promise made from Albany isn't necessarily a promise kept.

2 On Your Side found that 17 of the projects (listed at the bottom of this article) awarded to Western New York in the 60th Senatorial District through the State Senate's "Discretionary Capital Projects" were all "withdrawn." The projects were worth nearly $4 million total.

One of those projects was to demolish the old wastewater treatment plant on Grand Island by the south bridge. The plant had been vacant and unused for years, so the town was thrilled to get $100,000 through former State Senator Antoine Thompson.

The town received a letter in August 2009 saying it had been awarded the cash. Town engineers said they submitted all the proper paperwork, so the demolition happened in early 2011. But in July, the town got a surprising letter saying the funding had been withdrawn.

"The supervisor immediately copied the town board and said, 'Oh man, you know we just lost $100,000 that we thought we had,'" said Mary Cooke, a current board member and supervisor-elect.

Cooke contacted the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY), which administers the grants. However, DASNY said it has no say in what money is awarded or withdrawn. Grand Island taxpayers were left to pay for the project.

Other projects that had funding withdrawn included $200,000 for Bennett High School renovations, $100,000 awarded to Hispanics United, $850,000 worth of projects to the City of Buffalo, and a $300,000 grant given to the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center.

In many cases, Thompson was pictured more than a year ago handing out the oversized, fake checks. The actual money behind those checks never arrived.

Former Senator Thompson, who declined an on-camera interview with 2 On Your Side, said by statement that he was "outraged" to find that his projects had been cut. He said he didn't even find out until April or May of this year.

2 On Your Side found that the decision to cut the funding was made by the Senate Office of Fiscal Integrity, which no longer exists. It was created and operated by the Senate Democrats when they were in the majority.

Despite three days of conversations, the office of Democratic Senate Leader John Sampson has still been unable to provide an explanation for the cut in funding. As a result, 2 On Your Side filed a Freedom of Information Law request for any and all documents related to the WNY projects and any correspondence between the Office of Fiscal Integrity, Senator Sampson and other members of his caucus.

The current senator for the 60th District, Mark Grisanti, said it appears politics are at play. It turns out, the cuts were not only in WNY. Projects in the 3rd and 7th Districts (both downstate) were also cut, and coincidentally, Republican challengers beat out Democratic incumbents in those districts as well. The newly-elected senators in those districts issued a joint statement about the cuts in their districts.

"(The Democratic Majority's) politically charged actions were grossly irresponsible, devoid of integrity, and are causing significant harm," Senators Lee Zeldin and Jack Martins said.

Grisanti agreed with his colleagues.

"If you lose... and pull funding, you're only hurting your constituents," Senator Grisanti said. "All I can tell you is, what goes around comes around, and eventually it's gonna come back at you."

Senator Grisanti also criticized his predecessor, saying Thompson didn't leave behind important documents after he left the office. 2 On Your Side reported on that controversy earlier this year. Grisanti said he was left no records of the capital projects that were awaiting funds.

"You know the story," Senator Grisanti said. "All those documents and everything were shredded. So we don't find out until (the groups) actually called our office, and they say, 'Where's the money? Where's the money.'"

Thompson said he did leave behind important documents.

"Senator Grisanti was also given an Excel spreadsheet and reports that included a list of projects we secured funding for, the state agency responsible for the project, the contact information for the recipient and the state agency, and where the recipient was in the process for securing the funds," Thompson said by email.

Because legislative leaders and Governor Andrew Cuomo cut out the so-called "pork," including members items and "capital project" funding previously managed by members, it's unlikely the WNY groups will get the funding restored, according to Senate sources.

Grand Island is hopeful the state may come through with another grant to cover the $100,000 in demolition, because unlike other de-funded projects, Grand Island already performed the work. Senator Grisanti is working with Republican leaders to secure the $100,000.

"After this experience, I'll be on the phone just making sure that we're in line to get things taken care of," Supervisor-Elect Cooke said. "We've never been burned like this (before)."

2 On Your Side will keep viewers updated on the FOIL request and any future response from Senator Sampson's office on exactly who made the decision to cut funding and whether politics were at play in the process.

WEB EXTRA: Searchable database of all capital projects and member items from 2006-2011 (From our Gannett Albany Bureau)

WEB EXTRA: All 17 Projects That Faced Funding Cuts

  • 1. Bennett High School $200,000
  • 2. City of Buffalo $200,000
  • 3. City of Buffalo $400,000
  • 4. City of Buffalo $250,000
  • 5. Fillmore Leroy Area Residents Inc. $300,000
  • 6. Finishing Trades Institute of Western & Central NY $300,000
  • 7. Town of Grand Island $100,000
  • 8. Hispanos Unidos De Buffalo, Inc. $100,000
  • 9. S.J. Community Development Corporation $200,000
  • 10. Temple Community Development Corporation $150,000
  • 11. City of Tonawanda $100,000
  • 12. True Community Development Corporation $300,000
  • 13. University Heights Comm. Dev. Assoc., Inc. $100,000
  • 14. Eleventh Street Properties, LLC $400,000
  • 15. Niagara Arts & Cultural Center, Inc. $300,000
  • 16. City of Niagara Falls $200,000
  • 17. Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. $300,000





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