The judge at the upcoming federal trial of former SUNY bigwig Alain Kaloyeros for allegedly rigging development bids for big donors to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ruled on Wednesday that evidence of Kaloyeros’ $800,000 salary and flashy lifestyle won’t be allowed.
Prosecutors say Kaloyeros’ desire to maintain and improve his high-profile post as head of SUNY Polytechnic Institute by currying favor with Cuomo was the reason he joined lobbyist Todd Howe to steer multimillion-dollar Syracuse and Buffalo development deals to Cuomo donors.
Manhattan U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni said the theory made sense — “He wanted to stay in good with the governor. Protecting a million-dollar salary seems like a good motive” — but the details weren’t necessary.
“You can bring out that he’s well-paid,” the judge told prosecutors at a pretrial hearing. “His exact salary is irrelevant.”
Kaloyeros, 61, of Slingerlands, is set to go on trial June 18 with Louis P. Ciminelli, former principal of a Buffalo construction company, and Syracuse developers Joseph Gerardi and Steven Aiello. Howe pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate, but is not being called as a witness after credibility issues marred his testimony at the trial earlier this year of Cuomo aide Joseph Percoco.
As head of SUNY Polytechnic, physicist Kaloyeros brought in millions in research grants for nanotechnology and other areas, and became one of the state’s highest-paid employees, profiled as a wheeler-dealer with a taste for fashionable clothes and driving Porsches and Ferraris with vanity plates like “DR NANO.”
Prosecutor David Zhou told Caproni the government would present evidence that, after a rocky start with Cuomo when he took office in 2010, Kaloyeros began working with Howe — a longtime Cuomo family insider — to improve his ties, hoping eventually to become the president of the entire SUNY system.
But Michael Miller said the defense would dispute the motive, arguing that Cuomo’s control over the SUNY system and Kaloyeros’ salary were limited, and that in any event the details of Kaloyeros’ wealth weren’t critical. “This case is not about Dr. Kaloyeros’ compensation,” he said.
Late last month, prosecutors revealed that they would not call Howe — who worked as a consultant to Kaloyeros, and counted the developers among his clients — in the wake of his jailing after admitting to multiple lies and frauds on creditors at Percoco’s trial.
As a replacement, they reached a plea agreement with former Ciminelli executive Kevin Schuler, who will testify about tailoring bids to help his company, but Howe’s correspondence with Schuler and others is still expected to form a backbone of the prosecution’s case.
The judge said Howe was a “scoundrel” who was not necessarily “unreliable,” but defense lawyers said prosecutors would not be able to shield him by not calling him, promising efforts to put into evidence his history as a deadbeat and his testimony during the Percoco trial admitting to misdeeds.
“As sure as the sun rises in the east,” Kaloyeros lawyer Reid Weingarten told Caproni, “Mr. Howe’s credibility will be in issue.”