ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday there was nothing he could have done to prevent the corruption scandal that engulfed some of his biggest economic-development projects.
Cuomo, a Democrat, spoke to reporters in Brooklyn a day after former SUNY Polytechnic Institute President Alain Kaloyeros was convicted of rigging the bid for state-funded contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Among those contracts was a $750 million job to build a Tesla solar-panel manufacturing facility in Buffalo, which is the centerpiece of Cuomo's "Buffalo Billion" plan to revitalize the city's economy.
Asked whether he could have done anything differently or deserves blame for the situation, Cuomo pointed to the State University of New York system, which employed Kaloyeros.
"I don’t know what I could have done differently to prevent the situation," Cuomo said. "This is a subsidiary of the State University of New York, so this is within the state university system."
Public trust breached
In a statement Thursday, SUNY said it would seek to fire Kaloyeros, who had previously been suspended without pay.
SUNY Press Secretary Holly Liapis said Kaloyeros "breached the public trust."
"This is unacceptable of any public servant, but especially one who was trusted with leading a world-class public institution," Liapis said in a statement Thursday.
Cuomo appoints a majority of members to the SUNY Board of Trustees.
Alain Kaloyeros, right, former president of the State University of New York's Polytechnic Institute, walks from the Federal courthouse in New York, Monday, June 18, 2108. (Photo: Craig Ruttle, AP)
The conviction of Kaloyeros and three upstate developers Thursday was the second major corruption conviction involving Cuomo's administration this year.
Joseph Percoco, Cuomo's former top aide and close personal friend, was convicted in March of accepting more than $300,000 from companies with business before the state. Those companies then leaned on Percoco for favors.
Kaloyeros, meanwhile, was the founding president of SUNY Poly, overseeing its rise from a small nanoscience college in Albany to a high-tech empire with major state-funded facilities in Buffalo, Rochester, Utica, Syracuse and beyond.
The contracts at the center of his case went to Buffalo-based builder LPCiminelli and Syracuse-area contractor COR Development, which combined to contribute more than $300,000 to Cuomo's campaign over the years.
The contributions were not part of the prosecution's case against Kaloyeros and his three convicted co-defendants, Lou Ciminelli of LPCiminelli and Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi of COR.
On Friday, Cuomo said he had "segregated" that money from the rest of his campaign account and would seek guidance from federal prosecutors before deciding what to do with it.
"I want to make sure that I get their input on what we should do with the funding," Cuomo said.
This story will be updated.
The Percoco and Kaloyeros convictions have come at a particularly bad time for Cuomo, who is seeking a third term this fall while fending off challenges from Democrat Cynthia Nixon, Republican Marc Molinaro and a small handful of minor-party candidates.
His opponents have pounced on the guilty verdicts, with Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive, calling on Cuomo to return the contributions from LPCiminelli and COR.
"The governor doesn't know the difference between right and wrong and the money he's raised is tainted," he said in a statement.
Nixon, the Sex and the City star, held a news conference Friday outside of the Manhattan federal courthouse where Percoco and Kaloyeros were convicted, knocking the governor for the scandals and blaming him for a pervasive culture of corruption in Albany.
"We can’t clean up Albany until we clean out the governor’s mansion," she said. "Nothing is going to change until we change who’s in charge."
Government-reform advocates, meanwhile, were disappointed with the state Legislature ended its annual session in June without taking up any meaningful ethics or economic-development reforms despite the Percoco and Kaloyeros trials.
On Thursday, the New York Public Interest Research Group called on Cuomo to call a special session of the Legislature to address the issue, calling it Albany's "Watergate moment."
"The governor's failure to produce meaningful reforms, coupled with the Legislature's inability to come to an agreement on its own, highlight the failures of the state's elected leadership to grapple with unending scandals," the group wrote in a statement.