NYS Attorney General declines to investigate Niagara Falls State Park bidding scandal

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“Corruption is a serious crime. We will always enforce one set of rules for everyone — even if they walk the halls of political power.”

So stated New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman in an Aug. 10 post on his Facebook page. Yes, believe it or not, Mr. Schneiderman, the top law enforcement officer of the state, maintains a Facebook page. He updates it practically every day. He also finds the time to Tweet on a regular basis.

AG Schneiderman got back to us in response to an open letter we printed in the Niagara Falls Reporter asking his office to investigate alleged corruption associated with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $50 million Niagara Falls State Park Landscape Improvements Plan.

NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman

Back in March, 2014, the Reporter broke the story that an Albany-based landscape architect at New York State Parks, Stephen McCorkell, allegedly steered millions of dollars worth of landscape planning and design business in the park, of which he was the project director, to his wife Lisa L. Tonneson-McCorkell’s firm, LA Group of nearby Saratoga Springs.

The specifications that LA Group came up with for granite pavers, which now grace Niagara Falls State Park practically from one end to the other and everywhere in between, were obviously tweaked so that the only stone quarry on the face of the earth capable of producing the rarefied ““70 percent Hudson River blue with red and black garnet inclusions,” another Albany-area firm, Champlain Stone, would have a lock on the bid. Ultimately, the state spent over $600,000 on the pavers, paying an estimated additional $20-$40 per square foot of paving over and above prevailing market prices.

At least one executive at Champlain Stone, Kirsten Anthony, was also previously employed by LA Group. Her father, Jeffrey Anthony was a founding owner of LA Group.

In our Sept. 15 open letter to Mr. Schneiderman, we alleged violations of Public Officers Law 73, Section 15 which states that “No statewide elected official, state officer or employee, member of the legislature or legislative employee shall: (a) participate in any state contracting decision involving the payment of more than one thousand dollars to that individual, any relative of that individual, or any entity in which that individual or any relative has a financial interest,” as well as New York State Finance Law 163 that prohibits sole source bidding.

Last week, we received a response from the Office of the Attorney General:

“On behalf of Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, I thank you for the information you provided to our office on September 20, 2017. After an initial review of the documents we have determined that your complaint does not warrant action by this office at this time.”

Very truly yours,
Public Integrity Bureau

The fight against public corruption, rife in the Cuomo administration and New York State in general, seems to have ground to a halt with the governor’s dismantling of his Moreland Commission and the departure of Preet Bharara. Crucially, convictions obtained against former Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver and State Senate president Dean Skelos were recently thrown out.

Despite having initiated a “Taxpayer Protection Unit” soon after being elected Attorney General, specifically designed to go after corruption in state contracts, Mr. Schneiderman somehow didn’t think it worthwhile to look into the Niagara Falls State Park granite paver scam, or at least, some intern or similar low-level staffer in charge of sifting through complaints from the public didn’t.

Previously a state senator from Manhattan’s tony and ultra-liberal Upper West Side from 1999 to 2010, he has, however, found the time to band together on several occasions with like-minded liberal AG’s from across the country to sue or otherwise put on notice the Trump administration over high-profile, hot button issues such as immigration, climate change, gun control, student loans, Obamacare and sexual assault on campuses. It’s abundantly clear that he aspires to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, Andrew Cuomo, and ascend to Albany’s governorship, when the latter runs for the White House.

One good thing may have come from our expose’, however. Midway through implementation of the Landscape Improvements plan, when it became clear that, in addition to being fruit of a corrupt tree, many of the overpriced pavers were experiencing cracks, State Parks switched to a superior, and cheaper, Unilock brand of pavers to finish the job.

The Reporter will revisit this scandal periodically, as we have for the past three years. If Mr. Schneiderman won’t look into it, perhaps the FBI or Justice Department will, based on allegations of possible federal racketeering or fraud.

Flat stone pavers on Three Sisters Island

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