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Under cloud of pay-to-play scandal, Kaloyeros goes from exec to prof

ALBANY – For now, call him Professor Nano.

Alain E. Kaloyeros has traded in his lofty title and million-dollar-a-year salary with the State University of New York for what he believes is his right to a previous tenured professorship in the university system.

Precisely where he might go or when or how much he might make, let alone what his duties could be, remained uncertain Tuesday. Neither his lawyer nor SUNY officials were saying anything with certainty.

Kaloyeros, among those ensnared in the recent corruption cases filed by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan and state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, submitted his letter of resignation Monday to SUNY officials, formally quitting as president of SUNY Polytechnic Institute. His lawyer released the resignation letter Tuesday.

The move came several weeks after SUNY officials suspended him without pay following his arrest as part of the probe into alleged wrongdoing with the Buffalo Billion and other state economic-development projects.

In a three-paragraph letter, Kaloyeros said he is leaving as president and CEO of SUNY Polytechnic “and, in accordance with my appointment and SUNY regulations, resume my position as a faculty member with continuing appointment.”

A state government source said months ago that Kaloyeros had a clause in his SUNY contract that would allow him to bump back to the professor level if something happened to his position at SUNY Polytechnic.

Kaloyeros’ move from a SUNY administrative job to a previous faculty position is not uncommon, according to Frederick E. Kowal, president of United University Professions, or UUP, and, in fact, is long-standing SUNY board policy.

If Kaloyeros does return to his faculty position – which he held at the State University at Albany – he would again be protected by the collective bargaining and other provisions of the UUP contract with SUNY In his letter of resignation, Kaloyeros wrote:

“It has been my great privilege to serve as president and deeply rewarding to see SUNY Poly’s growth over the years. I am proud to have contributed to that. Now, however, I recognize my continued leadership would pose a distraction from SUNY Poly continuing its good work.”

In a joint statement, SUNY Chairman H. Carl McCall and Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher said they accepted Kaloyeros’ resignation “and we are evaluating his request to return to his faculty position.”

Kaloyeros joined the SUNY system June 23, 1988, according to payroll records provided by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. At the time, he was making $909 every two weeks. A few months later, his title changed to assistant professor, with a salary of $45,000. By August 1991, he was at the associate professor level with a salary of $61,000.

When he became the state government’s nanotechnology chief, which put him in charge of his own campus a few miles from the State Capitol, Kaloyeros was making about $1 million a year. In most years since then, he was the state’s highest-paid government worker.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo turned to Kaloyeros often, both in public and behind the scenes, to help him with major economic-development projects. At a February event at a packed Dunkirk High School, where the state announced construction plans by drug company Athenex, the two men offered words they repeated at other upstate events.

“He’s as close as I’ve ever come to dealing with a genius,” Cuomo told a crowd after Kaloyeros had just warmed them up before the governor’s speech. “Seeing what he did in Albany, we assigned him to Western New York to see if he could duplicate the miracle in Buffalo with the Buffalo Billion, and he has been really, really extraordinary.”

Kaloyeros spoke glowingly of Cuomo at public events.

“Welcome to the Andrew Cuomo juggernaut,” Kaloyeros said in Dunkirk. He said Cuomo “from Day One set his sights on giving this region the attention it deserves.”’

Schneiderman, though, accused Kaloyeros of improperly using the state bidding process to award contracts from SUNY Polytechnic to companies of his choice.

“This scheme is unusual in its brazenness,” Schneiderman said last month. “This is remarkable. It’s an explicit agreement for a kickback.”

Michael C. Miller, Kaloyeros’ Manhattan-based lawyer, said in a statement that “Dr. Kaloyeros is innocent of the charges filed against him and looks forward to being exonerated when the cases have run their course.”

A native of Lebanon, Kaloyeros was a young man when that country broke out in civil war in the 1970s. A Lebanese Christian, he said he received training from the Israeli army before seeing combat.

He returned to college in Lebanon, then moved to the United States to earn a doctorate in 1987 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in experimental condensed matter physics.

Kaloyeros started at the University at Albany after earning his Ph.D., and his star rose as he grew a program in nanoscale technology – the manipulation of matter at the atomic and subatomic level – into a fast-growing school.

One of his earliest backers was Sheldon Silver, the now disgraced speaker of the Assembly. Kaloyeros persuaded Silver to provide $5 million in state money to build a “clean room” for research on computer chips.

The nanotech college, now SUNY Poly, oversees campuses and projects throughout upstate New York. The first building in Albany was finished in 1997 and covered 70,000 square feet. Today, the home nanotech campus covers 1.65 million square feet and employs more than 4,000 people. More than 300 corporate partners pumped $24 billion into the site.

Kaloyeros worked under five governors, starting with the current governor’s father, Mario M. Cuomo. He had a knack for explaining technical concepts in a way that politicians, business leaders and other lay people could understand them.

At the younger Cuomo’s request, he was trying to repeat that success in Buffalo. But state and federal prosecutors say Kaloyeros abused his power.

In one instance, Kaloyeros is accused of giving advance notice to Columbia Development to prepare for a bidding process on student housing for SUNY Poly. The president of that company, Joseph Nicolla, faces his own charge from Schneiderman’s office on the corruption probe.

Kaloyeros is also accused of rigging the bidding process on the college’s NanoFab West research building. The chosen contractor is accused of offering a $50 million loan to a nonprofit with connections to SUNY Polytechnic Institute and a $3 million research grant to the college. Schneiderman’s office says incoming grant money was directly tied to Kaloyeros’ salary.

In a third instance, Kaloyeros is accused of allowing an architectural firm to lease space at the college in exchange for work on future SUNY Poly projects.

If convicted, Kaloyeros faces 4 to 12 years in prison.

Bharara separately accuses Kaloyeros of one count of conspiring to commit wire fraud. In a complaint unsealed last month, Bharara said Kaloyeros retained political consultant Todd Howe to rig the bidding process for two developers in Buffalo and Syracuse.

 

email: tprecious@buffnews.com

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