Little joy as justice faces fallen leader
Justice is at hand, it seems, for Alain Kaloyeros, the brilliant physicist and nanoscience researcher who prosecutors say corrupted Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s upstate economic development initiatives. His co-conspirators, beneficiaries of the graft that he enabled, have already heard their prison sentences, and a federal judge is set to give Kaloyeros his comeuppance on Tuesday.
So why doesn’t this feel satisfying? A long prison sentence for someone at the center of a massive rip-off ought to be cause for celebration, right?
Or maybe I’m alone in this. You may be chortling about Dr. K’s almost certain fate, since it’s undeniable that, even as his rise from young assistant professor to university president turned him into one of our community’s most prominent citizens, his behavior made him an unsympathetic figure.
He’s the guy who used to be the top earner on the state payroll, pulling in about a million bucks a year, at least based on documents we could see — though he bragged that we actually under-reported how much he made. Taxpayers tend to resent people who grow rich with money taken from their own pockets.
And Kaloyeros seemed to enjoy flaunting his wealth. He roared around in a flashy Ferrari that had a sticker price starting at about $300,000 (license plate: DRNANO) or a fully-outfitted black Range Rover SUV (license plate: NANOGEEK). He wore expensive suits, except when he showed up at VIP events in jeans, as if to prove that he cruised above rules made for lesser folks. People who followed him on Facebook often concluded that he was arrogant and misogynistic. And then there was the way he maneuvered to win things for himself: He seemed to have pushed out one University at Albany president who stood in his path, and another president arrived in town to the surprise news that the university’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering would be split off to give Kaloyeros his own fiefdom, a new SUNY Polytechnic Institute, with campuses across upstate. But the fact about Kaloyeros that you can’t esmakes cape — and what his impending incarceration seem downright tragic — is that he made good things happen in the Capital Region. Kaloyeros brought energy and confidence to a community that has often felt sorry for itself as an underachiever. His initiative — yes, undeniably his — turned a corner of the Ualbany campus into a national center for nanoscience, a public-private partnership with payrolls of many millions of dollars. That, in turn, made the region a viable contender for the Global Foundries chip fabrication plant, with its 3,000 or so workers. Here’s a fair question: Absent the seeds Kaloyeros planted, would the Capital Region’s technology sector ever have flowered?
One evening a few years ago, I ran into Todd Howe at Albany International Airport, and the conversation turned to Kaloyeros. Howe had worked for both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his father, and was then, unbeknownst to me, working for Kaloyeros, engaged in some of the criminal behavior that will soon lead to his own lengthy imprisonment.
“The thing about Alain,” I remember saying, “is that he has delivered on everything he promised. I used to think he was just a big talker. But what he said he would do, in fact, he did.”
Of course, what Dr. K was promising to do about that time, with Howe’s help, was criminally deliver hundreds of millions of dollars in state contracts under Cuomo’s “Buffalo Billion” initiative to certain contractors. It’s unclear why Kaloyeros did that, because there’s no evidence that he personally profited from the bid-rigging. Did he simply want to show that he was powerful enough to manipulate state contracts? Was a reward awaiting him that even prosecutors with subpoenas haven’t found?
It hardly matters now. U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Caproni has already said that Kaloyeros is more culpable than his co-defendants, so we know he will spend many years in prison.
And why is that? Prison is assumed to be either retributive or rehabilitory — that is, intended to punish people for what laws define as bad behavior or to reform them from ever again exhibiting such behavior.
But Kaloyeros deserves punishment for a deeper reason. We can’t have a just society if all citizens aren’t held responsible for their conduct. The assurance of justice under the law, regardless of anyone’s prior good deeds or station in life, ultimately guarantees our shared freedom.
So Dr. K will go to prison. We will miss his brash presence, and our community will be further diminished by the loss of his leadership. But a free society will be maintaining the rule of law, which protects all of its citizens, and that should be satisfying to us all.
Prison is intended to punish people for bad behavior or to reform them from ever again exhibiting such behavior. But is there benefit to locking up a man whose work helped shape our community?