Would a local jury pool be tainted in the Ciminelli bid rigging case?

The attorneys for Louis Ciminelli, Michael Lapple, and Kevin Schuler — the three LP Ciminelli executives indicted on public corruption allegations, including bribery and bid rigging — are petitioning the court to move their case to the Western District of New York, rather than have it heard in the Southern District, where the case was charged.

A trial date has been set for the three Ciminelli defendants for October 30th.

The judge is considering whether or not to move the trial, which includes five other defendants in a broad ranging conspiracy. The prosecution says that severing the cases would require duplicative prosecutions because the activities were intertwined.

Observers wonder whether a local jury pool would be tainted given the ubiquity of the Ciminelli name, which adorns construction sites and real estate parcels across the region. The firm employs and does business with large numbers of people. Could a jury interpret corrupt activities as benefiting the community, observers worry.  In a city with a culture like Buffalo’s, it’s raising concerns among good government activists.

In the Southern District, the case can be heard impartially and in the broader context of the allegedly wide-ranging conspiracy, which involves five additional defendants with close ties to the Governor.  There, the Ciminelli name is not well recognized and the firm’s economic influence is nominal — far from the dominant position the firm has had over Buffalo’s construction industry.

Here, the region’s largest general contractor has had substantial economic power over hundreds of subcontractors, trade unions, suppliers, and politicians for decades. The firm’s mastery of the government contracting process has made Louis Ciminelli a very wealthy and exceptionally influential man.

To move the case here would complicate it with almost unavoidable conflicts of interest at every turn.  The only sitting federal judge in Buffalo — Lawrence Villardo — is conflicted out of hearing the case because his longtime legal partner, Terrence Connors, is representing Schuler in the case. The other position on the bench is vacant and the Trump Administration has not yet offered a nominee to the Senate for confirmation. The scenario would require that a judge from Rochester presides over the case.

Ciminelli’s supporters argue that his generous philanthropy — like his $1 million contribution to he Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra — should rightfully be known by the prospective jury pool.

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