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Buffalo developer Paul Ciminelli was legally required to file annual financial disclosure statements with New York State during his four-year tenure on the public authority controlling Buffalo Billion spending, Empire

Buffalo developer Paul Ciminelli was legally required to file annual financial disclosure statements with New York State during his four-year tenure on the public authority controlling Buffalo Billion spending, Empire State Development (ESD). But Ciminelli’s forms are extremely deficient for the first two years he served on the board and missing for the second two. And New York State’s ethics watchdog appears to have done nothing to compel Ciminelli to file an accurate statement.

The statements require disclosure of income, contracts, assets, and other financial interests and in Ciminelli’s case could have shed some light on the nature and scale of his interests – and conflicts of interest – as a major Buffalo developer and ESD board member. As we reported last week, Ciminelli has benefited significantly from the Buffalo Billion, which is now under federal investigation (LPCiminelli, run by his brother Louis, has received a subpoena in that investigation). In his position on ESD’s board, Ciminelli recused himself from Buffalo Billion funding votes but never disclosed the nature of his conflicts.

We learned of the gap in disclosure after requesting Paul Ciminelli’s financial disclosure statements from the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) for each of the four years he served on the ESD board. JCOPE was only able to produce forms for 2009 and 2010, and could not find forms for 2011 or 2012. (Ciminelli would not have been required to file a 2013 form because he left ESD before the filing deadline for that year, May 15, 2014.)

Paul Ciminelli 2009 and 2010 forms were incomplete and inaccurate. On both forms, Ciminelli marked “none” for virtually every category, including categories where you might expect a wealthy developer to have something to disclose – income and investments, for instance. The 2010 form is especially empty, reporting “none” for spouse, even though Ciminelli still seems to have been married.

He discloses no income:

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No real estate:

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No securities:

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No spouse:

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In other words, Ciminelli treated the forms like they were a joke.

But the 2009 and 2010 forms are better than what JCOPE has on record for years 2011 and 2012, which is nothing. (Notably, he stopped filing the forms after the passage of the Public Integrity Reform Act of 2011, which strengthened disclosure requirements.)

This kind of missing paperwork becomes more important when state and federal investigations are swirling around projects involving you and your brother.

We made repeated attempts to get some kind of explanation from JCOPE, ESD, or Ciminelli Real Estate, but they were less than forthcoming. ESD confirmed that board members were required to file financial disclosure statements but referred questions about Ciminelli’s forms to JCOPE. Ciminelli did not respond to multiple requests for comment, and JCOPE fulfilled document requests but wouldn’t respond to our questions about the missing documents.

Ciminelli’s failure to file was not standard practice for his colleagues on the ESD board, all of whom filed the required forms in 2011 and 2012.

JCOPE is required to take various steps in the event of deficient or missing statements: send a private warning, send a notice of delinquency, and then potentially seek penalties and/or refer the case to a prosecutor. In this case, it appears to have done nothing – it has no notices of delinquency on file. This enforcement failure is consistent with JCOPE’s reputation as something of a joke, controlled by the political networks it is supposed to be policing.

Questions for follow-up reporting

  • Does Paul Ciminelli have any reasonable explanation for why there are no forms on file at JCOPE?
  • Did JCOPE ever notify Paul Ciminelli that he needed to file financial disclosure statements?
  • Did JCOPE ever consider taking action to compel Paul Ciminelli to file financial disclosure statements?
  • How does JCOPE track whether public officials have filed financial disclosure statements?
  • How common is it for public authority board members to fail to file forms or file extremely deficient forms?
  • Did Empire State Development have an accounting of Ciminelli’s financial interests on hand? How was it determined that he should recuse himself from Buffalo Billion votes?