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A postscript to Joel Giambra's Furnituregate

Ah, for the good old days, when men were men, boys were boys, Joel Giambra gave county business to his buddies and Eliot Spitzer sued everyone in sight.

SpanoI report in today's News that Jim Spano has fallen behind in repaying Erie County for excessive prices he charged for office furniture he sold to the county when Giambra was running the show. Spano missed a payment of $32,500 due in August.

In court papers filed Wednesday, the state attorney general agreed to let him spread the payments over the next 10 months. Spano's lawyer said the poor economy has denied him the cash flow necessary to make the payment in one lump sum.

I did investigative pieces in October and December 2003 that found that Spano, who was Giambra's best friend and chief political fund-raiser at the time, overcharged the county and  Erie County Medical Center by up to $550,000.

The county went on a spending spree for office furniture after Giambra took office in 2000 and awarded 85 percent of the business, worth $2.5 million, to Spano's firm, Buffalo Office Interiors. The purchases involved work surfaces, filing cabinets and other components of modular workstations. The company billed the county and ECMC at higher rates than it charged other government customers for the same products and services, despite bid specifications requiring vendors to give the county the lowest prices offered others.

County Comptroller Nancy Naples followed up with a review that came to the same conclusion and Spitzer then filed suit. The AG and Spano settled out of court in August 2006.

To date, Spano has paid $62,500 of the $225,000 he agreed to pay the county. If he was on schedule, he'd be up to $95,000.

The scandal proved to be the beginning of the end for Giambra, who was a bit of a Golden Boy up to that point. The furniture sales were brazen, and it wasn't too long until Giambra did his green-red budget, which spelled his doom.

Giambra_5I covered Giambra first as a member of the Common Council, then city comptroller, and just a bit as county executive, mostly in relation to my investigation of the furniture sales. Talk about a guy who changed over time.

I knew Giambra pretty well when he was in City Hall. A competent public official and a very likable guy, he started off almost every conversation with a dirty joke. Usually a pretty good one.

I don't know if it was the episode with cancer or the power of being county executive, but he was a changed  guy by the time I called him in 2003 to talk about his dealings with Spano.

Brooding. Easily agitated. Quick to find dark conspiracies. Me, Nancy Naples, Eliot Spitzer were all out to get him because he was an Italian, a Republican, whatever.

It made for good press, but at the same time, it was kind of sad. Joel was no dummy and was right on some of the big issues, starting with regionalism. But his hubris did him in. 


Local Government
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