Legal Eagle? The Rapid Rise of Andrew Cuomo’s Law Firm
September 2, 1986
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]. ♦
[Note: the bottom line — above — was cut off]