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Judge to would-be crooks after Kaloyeros sentencing: 'You will go to jail'

NEW YORK — The man who spearheaded the spending of a "Buffalo Billion" in state funds to boost upstate cities cried in a federal courtroom here Tuesday as he pleaded with a judge for leniency.

"I stand before you with a heavy heart," said Alain Kaloyeros, the former president of the SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Albany, said at a sentencing hearing that ended the bid-rigging case against him and three other defendants.

Choking up all the while, Kaloyeros seemed to take responsibility for the scandal that culminated in his conviction, as well as the convictions of Buffalo developer Louis P. Ciminelli and two Syracuse developers.

"I feel I let down the people of the state of New York, the good people of Buffalo and Syracuse," he said.  "I feel enormous sorrow and pain for what has happened. I will spend the rest of my life trying to make amends."

That appeal didn't seem to carry much weight with U.S. District Court Judge Valerie E. Caproni, who sentenced Kaloyeros to 3 1/2 years in prison, followed by two years of supervised release. Kaloyeros will remain free pending his appeal, but the judge also ordered him to pay a $100,000 fine.

"This sentence serves as a warning to others in public life," Caproni said. "If you engage in public corruption, you will be shown no mercy, and you will go to jail."

Alain Kaloyeros, right, former president of the SUNY Polytechnic Institute, walking into federal court in Manhattan in June. (Phil Fairbanks/Buffalo News)

Caproni said Kaloyeros and Joseph Percoco, a former top aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, were most responsible for the schemes that infused the Buffalo Billion contracts with corruption.

And she sentenced Kaloyeros accordingly, giving him more prison time than any other defendant in the two Buffalo Billion trials except Percoco, who received a six-year prison sentence after an earlier trial.

She did so at the end of a 75-minute sentencing hearing in which Kaloyeros, his lawyers and prosecutors painted radically different pictures of the man at the center of the bid-rigging scheme.

Known for a penchant for self-promotion at SUNY Polytechnic, the 62-year-old Kaloyeros came to the courtroom expressing an emotion he rarely seemed to project in prior years: humility.

"I let down the students and faculty of SUNY Poly," he said. "Because of my actions, they have found the school in the glare of an investigation and prosecution."

Contrite as Kaloyeros seemed, his lawyers sent out a statement after the sentencing in which they insisted upon his innocence.

"Alain committed no crimes in connection with his work on the Buffalo Billion program in Buffalo and Syracuse," his attorneys, Reid Weingarten and Mike Miller, said in the statement. "He attempted at every stage to make sure that the people of the State of New York got the right contractor for the right job at the right price. Alain will be appealing his conviction."

A jury found Kaloyeros guilty in July of wire fraud and conspiracy.

That statement followed Weingarten's long and emotional defense of his client's character, in which he portrayed Kaloyeros as an only-in-America success story.

Noting that Kaloyeros grew up in war-torn Lebanon in a troubled family with a physically abusive father, Weingarten went on to describe how his client went on to a stellar academic career that turned SUNY Poly into a job-creating powerhouse.

After Cuomo's Buffalo Billion initiative stalled, the governor turned to Kaloyeros to create similar economic engines in Buffalo and Syracuse, Weingarten said.

Yes, Kaloyeros relied on trusted developers to build those projects, Weingarten said.

Louis Ciminelli sentenced to 28 months in prison after dramatic hearing

"But never for a nanosecond did he believe that the employees or State of New York were at any risk," the lawyer added.

Weingarten also dismissed as "preposterous" the prosecutors' argument that Kaloyeros steered contracts to Cuomo contributors to fix a troubled relationship with Cuomo.

But that, along with the rest of Weingarten's extended soliloquy, seemed to frustrate the judge, who noted that Kaloyeros hired longtime Cuomo ally Todd Howe as a lobbyist for the university at the rate of $25,000 a month.

"Are you also going to get into why he (Kaloyeros) got into bed with Todd Howe?" Caproni asked Weingarten.

The defense lawyer said Kaloyeros hired Howe to handle the politics of the Buffalo Billion project.

"Todd Howe made it happen," Weingarten said.

Howe pleaded guilty to eight felonies as part of the federal Buffalo Billion investigation. He later discredited himself as a prosecution witness when he admitted on the stand that he tried to defraud a credit card company — a move that got him arrested again in the middle of the Percoco trial.

Cuomo has never been accused of any wrongdoing in the scandal surrounding his hallmark upstate economic development project.

Weingarten insisted that Kaloyeros was "a passive participant" in the scheme to steer state contracts to Ciminelli and the Syracuse developers, but prosecutors begged to differ.

They noted that Kaloyeros hired Howe to win Cuomo's favor, still fearing that the governor could fire him.

"In order to maintain his position, to have a better relationship with the governor… and to expedite the Buffalo Billion project, he pursued a relationship with Todd Howe, who he understood was close to the governor's office and could help him," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Podolsky.

Moreover, Podolsky said, Kaloyeros went on to draw up bidding specifications that favored contractors that donated to Cuomo and shut out others — again to win favor with the governor.

"Dr. K ultimately decided to be more loyal to his own position, to his own career, than he was to SUNY, the taxpayers and the state of New York," Podolsky said.

The judge, in the end, agreed.

Detailing Kaloyeros' actions in the bid-rigging scheme, Caproni said: "These are the acts of a scheming criminal, not an upstanding member of the SUNY faculty."

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