The Rapid Rise of Andrew Cuomo’s Law Firm

“The firm is currently slat­ed to work on Donald Trump’s grand scheme for the West Side — Television City”


Legal Eagle? 

The law firm that includes 28-year-old Andrew Cuomo, the governor’s son and top political adviser, and 33-year-old Lu­cille Falcone, who runs the governor’s campaign finance committee, is attract­ing top corporate clients that have major matters before state agencies.

Cuomo and Falcone, who have been dating since 1982, are partners in Blu­trich, Falcone and Miller, which has rep­resented Donald Trump, selected last December by the state’s Urban Develop­ment Corporation to build a new football stadium; William Zeckendorf Jr., devel­oper of several sites at the state’s Battery Fark City project; and Tishman/Speyer, a builder slated to supervise portions of the Times Square redevelopment proj­ect. The firm also represents a managing agent for George Klein, a prime develop­er selected by the state and city for the Times Square project. It is unusual for such developers to retain a five-partner, five-year-old law firm like Blutrich, Fal­cone and Miller, whose most senior partner is in his early forties. The firm’s representation of these clients has appar­ently never involved any interaction with state government, consistent with a deci­sion Andrew Cuomo says the firm volun­tarily imposed.

But sources close to the ongoing nego­tiation of a $123 million state-backed bond issue for Brooklyn Renaissance Plaza say that Falcone has represented Bear Stearns, the investment banking house that will float the bonds, in discus­sions concerning the proposed hotel and office project. Cuomo emphatically de­nied that the firm “appeared before any state agency” for Bear Stearns on this controversial project — which involves the state mortgage agency in a bond commit­ment five or six times larger than any it has ever made. But Cuomo pointedly would not deny that the firm represented Bear Stearns on the project. Though messages were left for Bear Stearns offi­cials Philip Cohen and John Giglio ask­ing about the Blutrich firm’s representa­tion on the hotel project, neither returned the calls.

The Voice revealed earlier [“The Muss Fuss,” NYC, May 27, 1986] that the ho­tel’s developer, Joshua Muss, had re­tained Long Island assemblyman Arthur Kremer, chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, to represent him in discussions with the state’s mortgage agency, and had also hired Eric Manes, son of the late Queens Borough Presi­dent, and Sid Davidoff, Donald Manes’s personal attorney. Another development firm, run by other members of the Muss family, employed the daughter of Brook­lyn Borough President Howard Golden. Golden and Manes supported the Brook­lyn Renaissance project.

The Blutrich firm, which recently relo­cated to a Park Avenue address, has been tied to the governor since its inception in 1981. One of the governor’s former top political aides and confidants, Jerry Weiss, formed the firm, but left it suddenly in December 1984, when his name surfaced in a state Investigation Commission probe of alleged influence peddling in connection with a state lease. Lucille Falcone joined the firm in 1983 while Andrew and her brother Neil joined it last year. A graduate of Albany Law School, Andrew’s only prior legal experience was a one-year stint in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, where he did appeals work in robbery, rape, and larceny cases. He left in the spring of 1985 to become a partner at Blutrich, where he specializes in real estate and banking.

Avery Seavey, the son of Governor Cuomo’s handpicked chairman of the Battery Park Authority, also became partner a few months ago. Seavey’s father Robert and his mother Phyllis Mehler are now of counsel to Blutrich which once represented William Zeckendorf Jr. Officials at the authority point out that Zeckendorf was selected before Seavey was appointed in 1984, though Seavey’s board has approved four Zeckendorf leases since his appointment. (Seavey is reportedly planning to resign his Battery Park post.) Though Andrew Cuomo contended that the senior Seavey was not yet officially associated with Blutrich, Seavey’s old firm said he’d relocated there months ago, and he is now listed both on the Blutrich letterhead and the building’s directory. Lucille Falcone and the governor’s daughter Maria live in an apartment building at 401 Second Avenue, leased in 1973 for 75 years by Seavey from the New York City Educational Construction Fund.

Governor Cuomo ended his own legal practice more than 10 years ago, when he was first appointed to public office, and has personally spearheaded unsuccessful reform legislation this year targeted at forcing legislators to disclose any representation by their law firms before state agencies. In recent weeks the Cuomo campaign has attempted to force the gov­ernor’s Republican opponent, Andrew O’Rourke, to disclose his client list going back more than a decade because of al­leged conflicts between O’Rourke’s pri­vate practice and his prior post as the Westchester county legislative leader.

While refusing to make a similar full disclosure of his own clients, Andrew Cuomo, who is managing the campaign against O’Rourke, insisted that he had not even told the governor who his clients were. Cuomo argued that if he were to reveal in a newspaper story who his clients were, that list would be seen by state commissioners, who might then feel pressured to give those clients preferen­tial treatment. (Two top state develop­ment officials who have dealt with Blu­trich clients told the Voice they had no idea that the firm represented the devel­opers they were negotiating with.)

Cuomo also argued that he could not rule out representation by his firm of all clients who have any kind of state busi­ness because such a bar would eliminate most potential clients. Cuomo said that any story about his firm’s clients would be “malicious” and would demean the legal ability of his partners and himself by suggesting that clients come to it only because he is the governor’s son.

William Stern, who has become a sharp critic of the governor after running Cuo­mo’s 1982 campaign finance committee and serving as the administration’s first president of the Urban Development Corporation, says that he repeatedly ran into questions about the relationship of the Blutrich firm to state government. When Stern resigned from UDC in March 1985 — shortly before Andrew joined Blutrich — he went to the governor to the complain about the firm. “I expressed my concern,” says Stern. ”I told him that I had gone into UDC to clean it up and that people had said then that I was just forcing out the old people to put in our friends. I told him that I did not come into government to shill for a law firm.” Stern says the governor reacted with “great anger” to his charge and asked: “How dare you say something like that?” Governor Cuomo was not avail­able for comment about Stern’s recollec­tions, though Cuomo aides have depicted Stern as an embittered enemy now tied to the Republican right.

(Ironically, the chief target of the Cuo­mo/Stern clean-up campaign at UDC, its former president Richard Kahan, now works for developer Martin Raynes, an­other Blutrich client. Raynes is managing a Park Avenue building for developer George Klein and retained the Blutrich firm to handle the coop conversion.)

Stern cited three instances of the firm’s intrusion in state matters. He said that Falcone called him in 1984 to ask “why I was pushing Zeckendorf out of the 42nd Street project.” Stern says he favored selecting an experienced hotel de­veloper and operator rather than Zecken­dorf and explained that to Falcone. Sources close to the Zeckendorf organiza­tion confirmed that the company had re­tained the Blutrich firm sometime in 1984 to work on subsidized housing proj­ects and that the representation ended in September 1985. According to Stern, Jerry Weiss called him to push a client interested in a contract to build an up­state UDC project. Neither Falcone nor Weiss, who has moved upstate and no longer practices law, returned Voice calls.

The third episode involved a call in December 1984 from Donald Trump, who allegedly asked Stern if he ought to re­tain Falcone. Trump said he had met Falcone because she was running the gov­ernor’s fundraising dinner dance and Trump was a member of the dinner com­mittee. “Judging from the things Trump said in the conversation, he was asking if he should retain the firm based on their influence, not their legal capacity. I told Trump that I don’t recommend lawyers,” Stern claimed, but he did recall praising Falcone’s legal ability. According to Stern, “he didn’t seem interested in that.”

[Unclear] sole source deal with Trump to develop a new football stadium, which would ulti­mately be approved despite costing the city and state $150 million. While An­drew Cuomo claimed in one interview to know nothing about Stern’s conversation with Trump, Stern says that Andrew called him shortly after the talk with Trump and thanked him for compliment­ing Falcone. In a later interview, Cuomo refused to respond to any of Stern’s alle­gations, insisting that Stern put the charges in writing.

Sources close to Trump confirmed that he began what they called “a continuing relationship” with the Blutrich firm shortly after this call — sometime before Andrew joined it. While it is unclear what Blutrich et al. have done for Trump, and whether any of the work occurred while Cuomo has been with the firm, the repre­sentation has apparently not involved state business. The firm is currently slat­ed to work on Trump’s grand scheme for the West Side — Television City — which will require a number of state transporta­tion and environmental decisions.

While head of UDC, Stern appointed Trump to the state’s Sportsplex board and then designated him, without any competitive bidding, to build the sta­dium. This was reversed by Stern’s successor, Vincent Tese, who is now the governor’s economic development czar, UDC president, and a close political sup­porter and adviser. Tese, however, did approve Trump’s stadium project after receiving competing proposals. He also executed a plan with Trump that Stern says he would never have approved — giv­ing Trump eventual ownership of the land acquired in the state’s condemna­tion proceedings for the stadium.

But, most importantly, Tese and the state Sportsplex director William Matti­son testified for Trump during the recent antitrust suit brought by Trump’s United States Football League against the Na­tional Football League (the governor himself was listed as a potential witness, but did not testify). Stern charges that the state “joined Trump’s lawsuit strate­gy,” designed to force a merger of the USFL and the NFL so that Trump’s New Jersey Generals would become the NFL franchise in the stadium he would build in New York. Tese’s extraordinary testi­mony, combined with that of other wit­nesses at the trial, revealed that the state met virtually none of the conditions laid down by New York Jets owner Leon Hess that would have enabled the team to return to New York. The permanent depar­ture of the Jets created the opportunity for a Trump NFL franchise in the new stadium.

Tese, who says he had no idea that Trump or any other developer doing business with his agency used the Blu­trich firm, told the Voice that he “would have been happier than a pig in Manila” if Trump’s team had gotten an NFL franchise and moved to a New York stadium, just that it was not a planned [unclear].

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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 23, 2020