Collins invested between $3.5 and $14 million in the business of Nick Sinatra, a developer in Buffalo, the Buffalo News reported. Nick Sinatra’s brother is John Sinatra Jr., who Collins is pushing for a federal judgeship.
Sources told the News that Sinatra’s name was on a list of likely judicial appointments the Trump administration sent in July to New York’s two U.S. senators, both Democrats. But Sinatra’s nomination has not moved any further than that.
Collins has pull with President Donald Trump as he was the first House member to endorse him for president last year. Trump has since relied on Collins for advice on filling federal positions and the federal judgeship in Buffalo.
Both Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand declined to comment to the News. And Tyler Ross, a White House spokesman who used to work for Collins, did not respond to a request for comment.
Government watchdog groups said they’re stunned that Collins is pushing a business partner’s brother for the appointment.
“Is it his legal proficiency or his brother’s relationships with Chris Collins and Donald Trump that qualifies him for the position?” Robert Galbraith, senior research analyst for a Buffalo-based good-government group called the Public Accountability Initiative, said.
The move is also being criticized by women lawyers because Sinatra would take the seat that the Obama administration wanted to fill with Buffalo’s first-ever female district court judge.
Obama nominated Kathleen M. Sweet to the judgeship, but Republicans blocked the appointment. She would have been the first woman U.S. District Court Judge to serve in Buffalo.
“It’s really important that the bench reflect the people it serves,” said Anne E. Joynt, president of the Western New York chapter of the Bar Association of Western New York.
Nick Sinatra, whose company has assets worth nearly $350 million, has become a frequent political donor, giving $56,714 in recent years.
Sinatra has frequently used the Historic Preservation Tax Credit to finance numerous business projects. Earlier this year, Collins co-sponsored legislation that would have boosted the tax credit from 20 to 30 percent.
But Collins also voted for the House's recent tax overhaul plan which would essentially eliminate the tax credit.
But Collins’ spokeswoman Sarah Minkel said the credit was not used on projects where Collins and Sinatra worked together.
Minkel also defended the judge.
“John Sinatra Jr. is a good attorney with a great legal mind,” Minkel told the News. “His resume and background speak for itself, and he has strong support in the community.”
An official in Collins office also said that Collins' role with Sinatra is the role of an investor as opposed to a business partner role.
"The Congressman has invested in a few of his projects," the official said, adding Collins mainly backs Sinatra financially and lets Sinatra make the actual decisions.