Defense lawyers in the bid-rigging trial of former SUNY official Alain Kaloyeros told jurors in Manhattan federal court Monday that he had no motive to corruptly favor two upstate developers for nearly $1 billion in projects and no need to curry favor with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
After Kaloyeros’ success using nanoscience research and public-private partnerships to develop Albany into a growing high-tech hub, defense lawyer Reid Weingarten said in his opening statement, his driven, “pugnacious” client had made himself “the most valuable property in SUNY’s world.”
“Why would this man who brought this miracle to Albany commit these crimes?” he asked jurors. “He was a hero in Albany. The second floor [Cuomo’s Capitol office] was more concerned that he would be recruited away than thinking about firing him.”
The argument targeted what legal experts say may be one of the weak spots in the federal wire-fraud conspiracy case against Kaloyeros, 62, of Slingerlands, the Lebanese immigrant physicist who founded SUNY Polytechnic Institute, and developers Louis P. Ciminelli of Buffalo and Joseph Gerardi and Steven Aiello of Syracuse’s COR Development.
Prosecutors admit Kaloyeros didn’t get any payoff or bribe. But after Cuomo took office in 2010, they say, Kaloyeros became insecure about his position and hired lobbyist and former Cuomo aide Todd Howe to lobby for support. Howe advised Kaloyeros to steer contracts to Ciminelli and COR, both Howe clients and large Cuomo donors, the government said.
“Kaloyeros needed strong support from the governor’s office,” prosecutor David Zhou said. “Howe was the key . . . He gave Kaloyeros access to the top people.”
One of the first government witnesses, former Cuomo economic development aide Andrew Kennedy, did confirm some prosecution claims, testifying that despite Kaloyeros’ successes Cuomo’s circle was “skeptical” about both his showy personality and his development model.
U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni expressed astonishment that a SUNY unit hired a lobbyist to deal with the governor, but Kennedy said Howe helped get Kaloyeros’ upstate development ideas funded, and eventually aided his promotion from a dean to a president in SUNY’s system.
“He had access,” Kennedy testified. “He had a lot of access.”
Howe, a cooperating witness, testified earlier this year that he arranged $300,000 in bribes from clients to Cuomo lieutenant Joe Percoco. Despite Percoco’s conviction, Howe’s admissions of multiple lies and frauds damaged his credibility so badly that he was jailed, and prosecutors are not calling him in the Kaloyeros trial.
Zhou said emails between Howe and the defendants would help corroborate the alleged plot, but the absence of a central witness provided an easy target for defense lawyers, who said e-mails from Howe statements were no more credible than Howe.
“We will show you that you can’t trust a word of what Todd Howe typed or said,” Weingarten told jurors.
Testimony resumes on Tuesday.