The former president of New York contractor LPCiminelli—the firm that has been at the center of an alleged pay-to-play scheme playing out since 2016 when he and two other executives were indicted—got a reprieve as federal prosecutors said they were dropping all charges against him, including wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and making false statements to federal agents, according to a June 1 court filing.
In the filing, U.S. attorneys from the Southern District of New York said that "further prosecution" of Michael Laipple "would not be in the interests of justice." The filing did not offer any more explanation of the major change, nor did the attorneys.
Laipple and former LPCiminelli CEO Joseph Ciminelli had been set to stand trial on the charges on June 18 in a Manhattan courtroom, joined by other upstate New York developers and a former State University of New York president in a bid-rigging case involving high-profile construction projects in Syracuse and Buffalo.
Bribery charges against all of them were dropped in late May, but the trial of the remaining defendants was delayed one week after a cooperating witness disclosed the existence of a relevant email chain.
The legal developments in the Buffalo Billion "pay to play" case—involving a deal by the ex-executives of LPCiminelli to gain work on what became a $750-million project in New York’s Buffalo Billion economic development program—follow by two weeks the decision by Kevin Schuler, former firm senior vice president, to plead guilty to the wire fraud and making false statements charges. He will be sentenced August 2.
Schuler, as well as Ciminelli and Laipple, were indicted for paying fired SUNY Polytechnic Institute CEO Alain Kaloyeros, to secretly rig the bidding process to be selected as preferred developers for state-funded projects without further competition on price or quality.
As a result, the company was awarded the contract as construction manager for the Riverbend manufacturing plant, the signature Buffalo Billion project.
The executives had previously pleaded not guilty to multiple counts of wire fraud and bribery.
Schuler agreed to cooperate and told prosecutors about email exchanges regarding LPCiminelli's input for the request for proposals that would guarantee a win. The emails had not been turned over earlier under a grand jury subpoena. He still faces a prison sentence of up to 40 years on the wire fraud charges, although observers say his cooperation could reduce that.
An attorney for Laipple said his client did not make a "cooperation deal" with prosecutors in exchange for the dropped charges, according to a June 1 report in The Buffalo News.
Prosecutors, who said on May 24 that about 1,500 documents were provided, requested the trial delay until June 18 or later to review the new material.
During the first phase of the trial in February, Syracuse-based COR Development president Steven Aiello was found guilty of wire fraud and not guilty of paying bribes to Joseph Percoco, a former aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), for his help to free up $14 million in state funds for work and to reverse a requirement that the company enter into a labor peace agreement, said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, for the Southern District.
Aiello faces up to 20 years in prison. Percoco also was found guilty of wire fraud.
Cuomo was not named in any legal charges but media speculate on potential political implications in his upcoming re-election campaign.
Joseph Gerardi, COR’s attorney was found not guilty on all counts in the February trial, but he and Aiello both face wire fraud and making false statements charges in the upcoming bid-rigging trial that resulted in the award of a $90-million manufacturing plant and $19-million film studio in Syracuse.
Kaloyeros also will be tried in June.
Another defendant, Peter Kelly, on May 11 pleaded guilty to wire fraud for illegally making payments to Percoco’s wife.
The looming charges have taken a toll on LPCiminelli, which last year ceased general contracting operations and scaled down to development work.
According to a report in The Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, Schuler is a former chairman of the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency and of the Niagara USA Chamber of Commerce board of directors, and was active in numerous other business and political groups.
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