By Rich Gagnier
Several months ago, I caught a former town supervisor being interviewed on a regional radio show. He discussed a local scandal that looked to rival Solyndra for being a money suck that went nowhere. I waited for the story to break nationally and put our New York State area in the headlight’s glare once again, but it never happened. I recommended the supervisor’s Twitter feed as a tip to various news sites, hoping one of its staff writers might go through the supervisor’s frequent tweets to get an overarching sense of them. As far as I know, no news outlet took the bait, so now I feel obliged to try.
This is a story of what looks to be political patronage involving some well-known personalities. I’ll inter-cut the story, as it was incompletely reported in piecemeal fashion by the press, with select tweets from former Gates, New York Supervisor Mark Assini, the man who refused to let the story rest.
This story begins with a Department of Defense offer of a $110 million fund to the chosen applicant city willing to become a hub for a burgeoning photonics (a science related to optics) industry. The SUNY Polytechnic Institute, the University of Rochester, and The Rochester Institute of Technology put together a joint proposal. The Rochester/New York State proposal was chosen by the feds, likely due in part to the Rochester group’s offer to provide some investment money of its own: $250 million provided by New York State, and a like amount provided by a group of universities, the photonics industry, and other states.
At a 2015 launch event, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Vice President Joe Biden announced the photonics project to the world. When the Rochester bid was accepted, many promises were made or hinted at that money and jobs would soon materialize. The following paragraph is taken from Cuomo’s website:
“A $110 million federal grant awarded to the SUNY Polytechnic-led American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics will support a high-tech consortium with business operations, a company incubator and accelerator, workforce training, and board of directors headquartered in Rochester. Total public and private investment in the Photonic Institute will exceed $600 million, including more than $250 million from New York State to equip, install, and make operational a state-of-the-art photonics prototyping operation.”
How much cash do you imagine was headed down the chute into Rochester’s gaping maw? A large chunk of the $110 million? $250 million? $600 million? Glowing quotes about Rochester from various politicians are featured on the site and paint an interesting picture:
Senator Charles E. Schumer: "A new tech era officially begins in Rochester today.”
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand: "This investment underscores Rochester and the surrounding region’s unique potential to be a national center for research and development.”
Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle: “This critical investment will allow Rochester to expand its role as a national leader in hi-tech [sic] photonics research and development.”
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren: "I was sitting in Vice President Biden's office a year ago when he told me he would do everything possible to work with the President to help Rochester.”
Included along with the aforementioned quotes was also one from SUNY Polytechnic Institute President and CEO Dr. Alain E. Kaloyeros that read, “Under the pioneering vision of Governor Andrew Cuomo . . ..” It’ll become more obvious as we move along what a bitter boast that turned out to be.
An apt example of how the best laid plans tend to fall apart, is this tweet written by a woman whose father was involved in the Rochester photonics bid, re-tweeted by Mark Assini:
“Believe me, those of us in the photonics industry who busted our asses to get this funding are just as angry that corrupt NY politicians stole our funding. We are MAD. Believe me. My dad was one of the main guys to help get this funding—we are all pretty shaken up.”
Things began to go south for the photonics project immediately after what appeared to be early proof of success.
In 2016, news stories trumpeted that two employers—Photonica and Avogy—were relocating to Rochester for its proximity to the photonics action, and that their move would bring jobs. How many jobs? News reports touted that as many as 800 jobs might be created by the companies locating to Rochester, with more jobs created in accessory organizations providing services and supplies. Unfortunately, any sense of satisfaction over the expanding photonics project would be fleeting. Later in 2016, it was announced that Photonica was cooling down on the move. But why? In measured language, a company spokesperson wrote:
"We are currently giving careful consideration to the changing situation within the state of New York and how it may or may not affect our plans to incorporate New York-based facilities into our supply chain expansion.”
It was assumed that the “changing situation” Phonotica was diplomatically referencing was a scandal that involved one of the three organizations that had put the Rochester proposal together—the SUNY Polytechnic Institute.
In 2016 Alain Kaloyeras (the fellow who wrote about “The pioneering vision of Governor Andrew Cuomo”) resigned as president of SUNY Polytechnic Institute due to felony corruption charges, for which he’d be sentenced in 2018 for three and a half years for bid rigging. Contracts had been awarded to developers LPCiminelli and COR Development, both campaign donors to Andrew Cuomo, a politician close to Kaloyeras and others charged. Cuomo, of course, would not be dragged into the net of felony-level charges, and would continue to be an unencumbered inspiration to Cro-Magnon morons everywhere.
However much Governor Cuomo’s “pioneering vision” was responsible for getting photonics companies Photonica and Avogy to take a careful look at Rochester, his close associates’ mob-like bid rigging behavior appeared to have driven Photonica away from the table. And the other company, Avogy? After a revamp of the company mission, they didn’t wind up relocating to Rochester, either.
Here is a series of tweets from Assini from February 2020 to kick things off regarding two companies—LeChase Construction and Newmark Knight & Frank—and their connections to the photonics project. The photonics project incidentally was not included in the indictments against Kaloyeras and company:
“Story behind Fauxtonics contributions: LeChase Construction within days of being named SUNY Poly preferred contractor in Sept. 2014 gave $36K to Governor Cuomo. Part of a large fundraiser thrown at his home.”
The Assini tweets suggest a behavior similar to what had put a few Cuomo associates behind bars, steering work to entities willing to kick back a little ca-ching. Beyond that charge, Assini noted that the money and jobs that had been promised to Rochester didn’t arrive:
(Tweet from Aug 22, 2020) “NYS OSC: Quote on specific SUNY Poly projects like Photonics ‘lacked sufficient detail . . . to justify the use of State Funds’. 5 Yrs, only 8 jobs & approx. 200 million in tax money (April 2020 FOIL). Annual operating expenses in the millions. And from our political leaders.”
(Tweet from August 22, 2020) “NYS Comptroller confirms what we already knew. Tech projects like Photonics were not thought out for return on investment, produced very few jobs, and cost taxpayers big money. Now NY is broke and cutting everything. The real price of pay to play in NYS.”
(Tweet from February 21, 2020) “The official pay list provided by SUNY Poly. They provided the total # of full-time employees working at Fauxtonics on Lake Ave and each person's salary. Approx. 1.1 million dollars for 8 people annually. Benefits not included in the figures.”
I don’t think it’s likely that Cuomo will be touched by Assini’s accusations of corruption in the form of bid rigging, or accusations of incompetence (this being New York State, and all) but how much corruption can spring directly from Cuomo’s inner-circle before this future presidential aspirant is recognized as a mobster? And how many Cuomo associates have to do prison time while Cuomo remains free before Cuomo feels any sense of shame?
It’s good to be king.
Rich Gagnier has been a public librarian for nearly 30 years. He has no particular interest in writing about politics, and will probably stop soon, so it would be a stupid waste of resources for any intelligence agency to “off him” for anything he might write. He also varies his route home from work daily and would not make things easy for you.