‘Vic­tory’ hard to see here

Albany Times Union - Sunday - - PERSPECTIVE - ▶ fle­brun@time­sunion.com 518-454-5453

A week from Mon­day, jury se­lec­tion be­gins in the lon­gawaited federal cor­rup­tion trial in Man­hat­tan of our own SUNY Polytech­nic In­sti­tute founder Alain Kaloyeros and four ex­ec­u­tives tied to de­vel­op­ers in Syra­cuse and Buf­falo.

The trial is sup­pos­edly about bid-rig­ging, giv­ing fa­vor­able con­di­tions to hand-picked de­vel­op­ers who got mil­lions in state con­tracts in ex­change for, well, some­thing. It’s not clear what. We can’t wait to hear this ex­plained, since the like­li­est can­di­date is big po­lit­i­cal do­na­tions to the gov­er­nor, which the U.S. Supreme Court has largely deemed le­gal.

But this does hint at a greater truth — that this trial may well turn out to be one gi­ant mis­take. On trial just as much as

Dr. K is gov­ern­men­tal over­reach and pros­e­cu­to­rial abuse driven by a pub­lic zeal to flush out cor­rup­tion. The only thing worse than not flush­ing the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem of cor­rup­tion is tar­get­ing the wrong peo­ple.

When federal pros­e­cu­tor Preet Bharara an­nounced the charges against Dr. K and the oth­ers nearly two years ago, the clues we got were that the feds were try­ing to get at Gov. An­drew Cuomo by lever­ag­ing Dr. K, even though they point­edly stated Cuomo was not ac­cused of any­thing. It turns out, the lever­age wasn’t there. It also turns out Bharara is no longer in­volved through no mis­deeds of his own. Also gone is dis­graced for­mer state at­tor­ney gen­eral Eric Sch­nei­der­man, who handed out ques­tion­able state in­dict­ments against these same de­fen­dants to horn in on the me­dia at­ten­tion. And so is star wit­ness and pri­mary ac­cuser Todd Howe, who was try­ing to save his own sorry self. It was Howe who char­ac­ter­ized the crimes and crim­i­nals now on trial, by first plead­ing guilty to his own in­volve­ment.

Howe is in jail in Man­hat­tan await­ing sen­tenc­ing on a num­ber of felonies. He is a con­gen­i­tal liar, con man and cheat, and a walk­ing sack of ma­nure con­sid­er­ing the harm he has done to the state of New York. The government’s star wit­ness. Back in Jan­uary, his bla­tant lack of in­tegrity, vis­i­ble even to the jury, nearly cost the government a con­vic­tion of Cuomo’s “brother” Joe Per­coco in a slam dunk case of quid pro quo, cash for gov­ern­men­tal ac­cess and inf lu­ence.

Wisely, the government will not be call­ing Howe to the stand this time. But his aura will be felt and his name dropped many, many times. Be­cause nearly all the ac­cu­sa­tions of crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity, of bribes, and sup­posed con­spir­a­cies, all went through him as Cuomo’s point man, help­ing cre­ate con­tracts and con­nec­tions for the state’s Buf­falo Bil­lion eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment projects. It will cer­tainly be an eye-opener to

learn who per­suaded Dr. K to hire Todd Howe as the field op­er­a­tive for con­tracts now be­ing scru­ti­nized.

What­ever the out­come of the trial, we of the Cap­i­tal Re­gion are the big losers. If

Dr. K. is con­victed of cor­rup­tion, then he will be guilty of steal­ing from us the enor­mous eco­nomic re­nais­sance and vastly in­creased sta­tus of the State Univer­sity at Al­bany he be­stowed over his bril­liant ca­reer here. But if he is ex­on­er­ated, and I lean in this di­rec­tion af­ter look­ing hard at the so­called ev­i­dence, who will give us back the eco­nomic fu­ture Dr. K and Nano have given us? Who will hold the government ac­count­able for the harm it’s done? Who will re­store Dr. K’s rep­u­ta­tion, not to men­tion the stag­ger­ing le­gal fees?

Ei­ther way, we are likely to lose Dr. K. Find­ing an­other im­pre­sario to fill his shoes, who can herd the cats nec­es­sary to surge us for­ward in nan­otech­nol­ogy, is a zil­lion-to-one shot.

Why am I not im­pressed by the government’s case? Watch­ing the pros­e­cu­tors fum­ble through the Jan­uary trial to a near mis­trial, and the ac­tual mis­trial last week of a for­mer Nas­sau County ex­ec­u­tive, Ed Mangano, over yet an­other seem­ingly sim­ple quid pro quo ar­range­ment, for starters.

In ad­di­tion, this com­ing trial is far more com­plex than any of the oth­ers. Dr. K. is not ac­cused of gain­ing a penny from any­body.

There is no quid pro quo. Nor is it clear any eco­nomic harm came to any en­tity for the crimes al­legedly com­mit­ted, or whether they are in fact crimes at all, since the spe­cial sta­tus of the not-for-prof­its used as the con­tract­ing ve­hi­cles is ex­empt from cer­tain pro­cure­ment re­quire­ments.

If there are no crimes, then there are no crim­i­nals. Ex­cept, of course, for Todd Howe, who has al­ready pleaded to a num­ber of them, and may have snared a few ex­ec­u­tives in his ac­tiv­i­ties.

The heart of the government’s case rests in the mind-numb­ing world of state con­tract pro­cure­ments and what is al­lowed in pre-re­quest for pro­posal dis­cus­sions. Very sexy stuff.

What is sur­pris­ing, to me at least, is how wide a lat­i­tude the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of State Pro­cure­ment Of­fi­cers guide­lines al­low, and even en­cour­age, in pre-con­tract dis­cus­sions with ven­dors.

Fi­nally, of course also on trial is Cuomo, whether for­mally or not. He too loses no mat­ter which way it goes, since Todd Howe was his man in the field for his Buf­falo Bil­lion, and the flow of do­na­tions, le­gal or not, came to no one else but him.

Fred Le­brun

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