BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Kevin Schuler was the federal government’s star witness in the Buffalo Billion trial. He took the stand to provide to prove general contracting company LP Ciminelli conspired with the state to secure the Solar City contract, worth three quarters of a billion dollars.
Having done his duty and pleaded guilty to federal crimes in exchange, he’s now looking for redemption, and again, it’s coming at taxpayer’s expense.
“Certainly given my background on the Buffalo Billion, it created some controversy around it. I stood in front of the legislature, took on those questions, acknowledged that I bring baggage to the position,” said Schuler, now the Niagara County public information officer.
That baggage is the more than year long federal investigation into the Buffalo Billion, and resulting trial. Just days before the trial was set to begin in lower Manhattan, Kevin Schuler became the government’s star witness, telling the court how he and state economic officials like Alain Kaloyeros and lobbyist Todd Howe worked together to effectively ensure Schuler’s former employer, LP Ciminelli, was awarded the $750 million Riverbend Project in South Buffalo.
“In a process that was supposed to be fair, open and competitive, I was part of some people who gave us an unfair advantage in that,” Schuler said.
Schuler was sentenced to one day in jail – which the judge counted as the day he was arrested – two years of supervised release and 200 hours of community service, a task he’s taken to heart beyond the mandate.
“It’s surreal. It’s something you’d never think you’d find yourself in the middle of, and when it’s all over, you’d think there would be jubilation. Instead, it’s tremendous sadness.”
“It’s significant, and part turning the page is dusting yourself off and trying to figure out what comes next.”
What comes next for Schuler is serving as the public information officer for Niagara County, a position approved this week by the legislature. His appointment immediately drew criticism. Others claim Schuler was given the job as a political favor, or point to a federal bribery charge that was eventually dropped because of a lack of evidence.
Schuler says the fallout was expected.
“I understand the skepticism. The fact of the matter is I have a right to apply for a job. I did, and I was deemed most qualified for it. Having said that, I understand the skepticism. I just ask people, let my two decades of public service in Niagara County, let me have the opportunity show that I can do that again, and please weigh that against what I’ve done previously.”
Schuler starts the new position in January. He will make a little less than $80,000 to communicate with the media, with and among county departments and the legislature and produce social media, and he says he will continue to embrace, rather than run from, his past.