Attorney General Cuomo Announces Arrest Of Former New York State Fair Director

NEW YORK, NY (December 20, 2010) - Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the arrest of the former director of the New York State Fair, Peter Cappuccilli, Jr., on charges of grand larceny, defrauding the government, and official misconduct.

According to the felony complaint, Cappuccilli, a resident of Syracuse, exploited his position as the State Fair’s director for personal gain and perks. Cappuccilli was the Fair director from 1995 until 2005 and was an employee of the Department of Agriculture and Markets during his tenure.

New York’s State Fair is one of the largest and longest running fairs in the country, first held in Syracuse in 1841. The annual fair runs for twelve days in August and September, draws nearly 1 million visitors, and has annual revenues exceeding $16 million. The Fair is housed on 365 acres of state-owned property commonly known as the “fairgrounds,” which are used for public events year-round, including concerts, competitions, and other cultural events.

“According to the complaint, Peter Cappuccilli abused his government position and misused taxpayer resources to benefit himself and his family,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “The Fair is an upstate economic engine and an important cultural outlet that is intended to serve all New Yorkers. As today’s actions show, we will not tolerate the graft and backroom deals that have corrupted this proud institution.”

The complaint alleges that Cappuccilli exploited his position to obtain personal benefits in ways such as:

  • Cappuccilli hosted weddings for two daughters on the grounds of the New York State Fair for substantially less than the fair market value.
  • The first wedding took place in 2002. For the wedding, Cappuccilli received an improper discount on catering from “Catering with a Flair” (“the caterer”). The caterer was a Fair licensee that was doing business with the Fair, subject to Cappuccilli’s supervision.
  • Cappuccilli held another one of his daughter’s weddings on the fairgrounds in 2004 and wrongfully obtained over $66,000 in benefits. In particular, Cappuccilli directed Fair employees to drain and paint a man-made pond where the wedding festivities were held. Cappuccilli improperly closed fairgrounds facilities to make the wedding more private, depriving the Fair of over $46,000 in concert and rental revenue. Cappuccilli also secured a $20,000 discount from the same caterer he used for the 2002 wedding. He then attempted to conceal his conduct by removing invoices and related records from State Fair files.
  • Cappuccilli provided the same caterer with benefits, which included failing to enforce a contract that required the caterer to make $83,000 in renovations to Fair facilities.
  • Cappuccilli oversaw lavish, open-bar holiday parties on Fair property for hundreds of people using the same caterer at a significant discount.

After surrendering at the State Police Barracks in Syracuse, Cappuccilli was arraigned in the Geddes Town Court before Town Justice John D. Kinsella and released on his own recognizance. Cappuccilli is charged with one count of Grand Larceny in the Third Degree (a class D felony), one count of Defrauding the Government (a class E felony), and two counts of Official Misconduct (a class A misdemeanor). The most serious charge - the class D felony - carries a maximum sentence of up to seven years in prison.

The complaint is available at www.ag.ny.gov/media_center/2010/dec/Cappuccilli_Complaint.pdf

RECOMMENDATIONS TO IMPROVE STATE FAIR OPERATIONS

Also today, Attorney General Cuomo released a report proposing reforms at the State Fair to address continuing management and financial deficiencies. Cuomo’s report has found that the State Fair has experienced problems with regard to ethics, integrity, and management. Based on a review of best practices at similar fairs around the country, the report notes that the State Fair lacks essential financial and ethical controls.

The report’s recommendations include:

  • A State Fair Advisory Board, required by statute but not currently operating, be appointed and staffed by independent members with professional business management experience to provide direction and guidance to the Fair.
  • The Board implement, through an Audit Committee, suitable annual audits and public reports to ensure efficiency, transparency, and accountability.
  • The Fair codify and enforce policies and procedures in key public integrity areas, starting with self-dealing, nepotism, and conflicts of interest.

The report is available at www.ag.ny.gov/media_center/2010/dec/State_Fair_Report.pdf

The criminal prosecution of Cappuccilli is being conducted by Assistant Attorneys General John Carroll and Jessica Silver, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Stacy Aronowitz and Special Deputy Attorney General for Public Integrity Ellen Biben.

The report on the State Fair was prepared by Assistant Attorneys General Lauren Ellis and James Weir, under the supervision of Special Counsel to the Attorney General Linda A. Lacewell.

The charges against the defendant are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

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