Maybe the governor was counting on us all to be chasing Pokemon characters when his office revealed Friday that state taxpayers would be paying up to $450,000 to a Madison Avenue law firm to "independently" investigate the Buffalo Billion project and associated economic development projects.
Bart M. Schwartz and Guidepost Solutions LLC was hired in April to look into some of the state's questionable economic development projects, but the contract details and terms weren't released until Friday.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo's decision to bring in his own independent investigator came very shortly after U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's office announced that it was conducting a federal investigation into the Buffalo Billion project, related state contracts and involved individuals with close connections to Cuomo.
Yet the administration moved forward with hiring the firm, you know, just in case the U.S. Attorney doesn't do a thorough job.
Within days after the announcement, Bharara's office had issued a warning that the independent investigator should stay out of the way of his investigation.
Yet how can they move in the same circles without stepping on one another's toes occasionally? And if they're both investigating the same kind of malfeasance, why is the governor's probe even needed?
Moving on. What exactly are we getting for nearly half a million bucks, anyway?
Schwartz is charged with examining existing documents and past grants and payments, as well as new grants related to the economic development projects— all of which should be public information subject to public scrutiny already.
The $450,000 maximum charge includes, according to the contract, a rate for directors and managing forensic investigators of between $405 and $625.50 per hour. Per. Hour. The contract also provides an rate of $270-$360 per hour for project managers, investigators, consultants, researchers and forensic accountants. And it includes $90 per hour for staff and assistants. After all, you've got to take good care of the typists and interns, right? The work only covers the eight-month period from April 29 to Dec. 31.
And incredibly, it's possible that at the end of the eight months, we won't even be able to review the law firm's findings — since the contract leaves it to the "discretion" of the firm whether or not to issue a public report.
For that kind of money, we should at least have something tangible to review to determine whether the investigation was thorough, fair and complete, shouldn't we?
Will the governor's office get its own private report?
It's bad enough that this so-called independent investigation seems unnecessary given that the U.S. attorney is already conducting his own probe.
But add in the high price of the investigation and the fact that the terms of the contract weren't announced until nearly three months after the investigation began, and you begin to wonder if we're all being sold a bill of goods.