Sergey Aleynikov

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Sergey Aleynikov
Soviet Union[1]
NationalityRussia and United States[2]

Sergey Aleynikov (born 1970) is a former Goldman Sachs computer programmer. Between 2009 and 2016, he was prosecuted by NY Federal and State jurisdictions for the same conduct of allegedly copying proprietary computer source code from his employer, Goldman Sachs, before joining a competing firm. His first prosecution in federal court in New York ultimately resulted in acquittal by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The outcome of his second prosecution and trial in New York state court was a split verdict dismissed by court, which acquitted him on all counts. One count in that order of dismissal was later overturned by New York Court of Appeals, which took a very broad interpretation of the statute,[3] and on recommendation of prosecutors he was sentenced to time served without punishment.[4] The same New York Court of Appeals denied his petition to appeal on double jeopardy grounds. His story inspired Michael Lewis's bestseller Flash Boys.


Around 1990, Sergey Aleynikov emigrated from the Soviet Union to the United States.[5][1] From 1998 to 2007, he worked at IDT Corporation, writing software to better handle high volumes of phone calls.[6]

He authored a telecommunications patent[7] and contributed to a number of open-source Erlang and C++ projects.[8] He also published several Perl modules on CPAN.[9]

Aleynikov was employed for two years, from May 2007 to June 2009, at Goldman at an ultimate salary of $400,000.[6][10] He left to join Misha Malyshev's Teza Technologies, a competing high-frequency trading firm which offered to triple his pay.[5][11]

In May 2010, Aleynikov founded Omnibius, LLC, a consulting services firm for financial clients.[10]

Federal prosecution and acquittal[edit]

On July 3, 2009, he was arrested by FBI agents at Newark Liberty International Airport after Goldman raised the alarm over a suspected policy violation reported by Goldman on July 1, 2009, two days prior to his arrest. He was accused by the FBI of improperly copying computer source code that performs "sophisticated, high-speed and high-volume trades on various stock and commodity markets", as described by Goldman. The events leading to his arrest are covered by Michael Lewis in his 2014 book Flash Boys.[12] According to Assistant United States Attorney Joseph Facciponti, "the bank has raised the possibility that there is a danger that somebody who knew how to use this program could use it to manipulate markets in unfair ways.".[13] Facciponti's words in the courtroom contradicted to what David Viniar, Goldman's CFO, said a few days later on the earnings call that the sustained losses would be "very, very immaterial".[14] Aleynikov acknowledged downloading some source code, but maintained that his intent was to collect exclusively open-source software that is not proprietary to his then-employer.[1]

On February 10, 2010, a 3-count indictment was handed down by a federal grand jury in Manhattan.[15] The counts included theft of trade secrets (count 1),[16] transportation of stolen goods (count 2),[17] and illicit obtainment of data from a protected computer (count 3).[18]

On July 16, 2010, Aleynikov moved to dismiss the indictment for failure to state an offense under any of the three statutes invoked: the Economic Espionage Act of 1996, the National Stolen Property Act, and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. He argued that the acts he was accused of did not constitute a crime.[19] On September 3, 2010, the federal judge, Denise Cote, dismissed the count 3 but denied the rest of the motion.[20]

In December 2010, Aleynikov had a jury trial in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Certain trial proceedings were not public. On December 10, he was convicted of the remaining two counts, including theft of trade secrets and transportation of stolen property.[5][11][21] Later, he was sentenced to 97 months (8 years) in prison, three years of supervised release following his prison sentence, and a $12,500 fine, despite the recommendation of the Federal Probation Service of suggesting a 24 month (2 years) sentence.[21][22]

Three weeks before sentencing, Aleynikov was incarcerated on request of the government, as he was judged to be more of a flight risk after separating from his wife.[23][24]

In March 2011, Aleynikov appealed the conviction, asking the Second Circuit to review the District Court's decision denying his original motion to dismiss the indictment for failure to state a claim.[25]

On February 16, 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit heard oral argument on his appeal and, later that day, unanimously ordered his conviction reversed and a judgment of acquittal entered, with opinion to follow.[1] Aleynikov was released from custody the next morning.

On April 11, 2012, Dennis Jacobs, Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals, published a unanimous decision in a written opinion[1] stating:

On appeal, Aleynikov argues, inter alia, that his conduct did not constitute an offense under either statute. He argues that: [1] the source code was not a "stolen" "good" within the meaning of the NSPA, and [2] the source code was not "related to or included in a product that is produced for or placed in interstate or foreign commerce" within the meaning of the EEA. We agree, and reverse the judgment of the district court.[25]

By this time, Aleynikov had divorced and lost his savings.[26][27] According to his lawyer, his life had been "all but ruined" as a result of his incarceration.[28]

The government did not seek reconsideration of the Second Circuit's ruling, thus ending federal action against Aleynikov.[29]

Later, on December 18, 2012, the Congress enhanced the 1996 Economic Espionage Act, in order to cover similar acts in future rulings, in a law referred to as the "Theft of trade secrets clarification act of 2012".[30]

NY State prosecution[edit]

Arrest, trial, and acquittal[edit]

On August 9, 2012, Aleynikov was re-arrested and charged[31][32][33] by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., on behalf of New York State, with "unlawful use of secret scientific material"[34] (2 counts) and "unlawful duplication of computer-related material"[35] (1 count) based on the same conduct. The state prosecution was initiated based on a complaint signed by the same federal agent, Michael McSwain, who led the investigation underlying the failed federal prosecution. Aleynikov's lawyer, Kevin Marino, accused Goldman Sachs of being behind the government's aggressive prosecution. Marino sharply criticized the Manhattan District Attorney's office for charging Aleynikov after his federal conviction had been overturned and he had already served a year in prison:[36][2]

[My client] left Russia for freedom and the American way, and he got Franz Kafka and Goldman Sachs.

On September 27, 2012, Aleynikov pleaded not guilty to all state charges[2] and rejected the prosecutors' plea offer of accepting a single count offense and serving no jail time. On April 5, 2013, Aleynikov lost his motion to dismiss based on double jeopardy. In rendering the decision, New York State Supreme Court Justice Ronald Zweibel stated that Aleynikov's acquittal in federal court only precluded the federal government from retrying Aleynikov. The state of New York, as a separate sovereign, could continue pursuing charges against him.[37]

On June 20, 2014, upon reviewing the evidence, Justice Ronald Zweibel published a 71-page opinion in which the court ruled that the FBI "did not have probable cause to arrest defendant, let alone search him or his home." The arrest was "illegal", and Aleynikov's "Fourth Amendment rights were violated as a result of a mistake of law."[38][39] Besides finding that he was arrested illegally without probable cause, the court excluded the majority of evidence passed by the FBI to state prosecutors, as that property was supposed to be returned to Mr. Aleynikov upon acquittal.

On May 1, 2015,[40][41] following a trial before a New York state jury, he was cleared of the unlawful computer-related material duplication[35] charge but found guilty of one count of unlawfully using secret scientific material.[34] The jury deadlocked on the third count. On July 6, 2015, Justice Daniel P. Conviser dismissed[42] the two remaining charges finding that, as a matter of law, Aleynikov did not violate the statute, and no rational jury could convict him of those charges. In his opinion, he wrote:[43][31]

The Court holds that, viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the People, the prosecution did not prove the Defendant made a "tangible reproduction or representation" of secret scientific material as required by the statute. The Court also holds, again under the same evidentiary standard, that the People did not demonstrate Aleynikov had the "intent to appropriate ... the use of secret scientific material" as required by the law. Defendants cannot be convicted of crimes because we believe as a matter of policy that their conduct warrants prosecution.

The statute criminalizing unlawful use of secret scientific material was enacted in 1967 but rarely utilized. The word "tangible" had never been defined by the New York Penal Law or in any reported court decision involving that statute. The one reported decision in which the statute did receive legal scrutiny — People v Russo (131 Misc 2d 677 [Suffolk County Ct 1986, Copertino, J.]) — was not informative with respect to the issues here.[31]

NY State Appeal[edit]

On April 4, 2016, almost nine months after Aleynikov was acquitted by the NY Supreme Court, the Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance's office filed an appeal seeking to reinstate the guilty verdict,[44] arguing that

No sensible reading of the word 'tangible' supports the trial court's misguided view that the Unlawful Use statute proscribes only the creation of paper copies of secret scientific material. Even assuming the word is given its narrowest possible definition, 'perceptible to the touch,' [...] a digital reproduction of data is no less tangible than a paper copy. Computer code, in its essence, is intellectual property, just like a song or a formula. When intellectual property is written on paper, it is no more 'perceptible to the touch' than it is when written onto a hard drive. In neither case can a person 'touch' the intellectual property. In both scenarios, however, a person can touch the medium onto which the property is reproduced or recorded. This is true whether information is inscribed on a tablet, written on paper, saved onto a hard drive, or photographed with a digital camera. In each instance, the information is reproduced in a manner that gives it physical existence – in other words, a tangible reproduction or representation.[44]

Defense attorney Kevin Marino denounced Mr. Vance's actions:

To re-prosecute Sergey Aleynikov – who was acquitted of all federal charges after spending a year in prison – was reprehensible; to file this baseless appeal eight months after Mr. Aleynikov was likewise acquitted of all state charges is truly inexcusable. Is no one watching how Mr. Vance spends the taxpayers' money?[44]

On January 24, 2017, Aleynikov's conviction was reinstated by the First Department of the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court.[45][46] The appellate court found the trial court's reasoning—that an electronic copy of the code was not a "tangible" reproduction—made "little sense," as a compact disc and a thumb drive are both "unquestionably tangible." The appellate court also found that the trial court erred in concluding that Aleynikov lacked "intent to appropriate," holding that the evidence "permits a rational inference that defendant intended to exercise permanent control over the use of Goldman's source code, as opposed to a short-term borrowing."[46] Aleynikov's lawyer has stated that he will seek "immediate leave to appeal" the decision.[47]

In the opinion on the 330.30 motion, the trial court's judge criticized decision of the appellate court:

Even were the proper construction of the word "tangible" a close call, however, this Court believed the Rule of Lenity compelled the dismissal of the charges here. "If two constructions of a criminal statute are plausible, the one more favorable to the defendant should be adopted ... " People v. Golb , 23 N.Y.3d 455, 468, 991 N.Y.S.2d 792, 15 N.E.3d 805 (2014). ... Neither the First Department nor the New York Court of Appeals mentioned the Rule of Lenity or any equivalent doctrine in their decisions.[48]

On April 20, 2017 New York Court of Appeals granted[49] Aleynikov's motion to appeal the reversal decision of the intermediate New York's appellate court. The New York Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the Appellate Division on May 3, 2018, and he was sentenced to time served. Aleynikov's lawyer, Kevin Marino, criticized the conviction, and indicated that he will appeal the outcome:

Mr. Aleynikov was twice placed in jeopardy for the same offense. He was acquitted in federal court because the source code copy he made was not tangible and convicted in state court because it was tangible. That’s double jeopardy. And if they were going to ask for time served, why did they waste six years and millions of taxpayer dollars pursuing this case? It is an appalling abuse of power by an office becoming well-known for it.[4]

Malicious prosecution lawsuit[edit]

Aleynikov sued the FBI agents who arrested him for malicious prosecution.[50] The judge dismissed the case with respect to Aleynikov's federal prosecution, finding that the agents were warranted in believing that Aleynikov had violated the National Stolen Property Act and the Economic Espionage Act. Aleynikov's malicious prosecution claims in connection with his prosecution in New York state court were stayed pending the District Attorney's appeal of the New York trial court's decision to set aside his conviction.[51]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Kim Zetter (April 11, 2012). "Code Not Physical Property, Court Rules in Goldman Sachs Espionage Case". Wired. Retrieved August 10, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c Ax, Joseph (September 27, 2012). "Ex-Goldman programmer rejects plea deal with NY—lawyer". Reuters. Retrieved September 29, 2016.
  3. ^ "New York v. Aleynikov -- On Second Thought, New York State's Penal Code (Unlike Federal Criminal Law) Covers Electronic Reproduction of Source Code". JD Supra.
  4. ^ a b "Ex-Goldman programmer sentenced to time served in theft case". October 23, 2018.
  5. ^ a b c Peter Lattman (December 10, 2012). "Former Goldman Programmer Found Guilty of Code Theft". The New York Times. Retrieved August 10, 2012.
  6. ^ a b Phil Johnson (August 28, 2013). "The $1 million a year software developer". IT World.
  7. ^ "Patent application title: Strategic Telecom Optimized Routing Machine". Patentdocs. August 21, 2008. Retrieved September 8, 2016.
  8. ^ Sústrik, Martin (November 10, 2011). "ØMQ: Mission Accomplished". 250bmp. Retrieved September 8, 2016.
  9. ^ "Distributions uploaded by Sergey Aleynikov (RANDIR)". MetaCPAN. Retrieved September 8, 2016.
  10. ^ a b "Serge Aleynikov". LinkedIn. Retrieved August 10, 2012.
  11. ^ a b Clark, Jack (March 19, 2011). "Bank programmer gets eight years for code theft". ZDNet. Retrieved September 6, 2016.
  12. ^ Lewis, Michael (2014). Flash Boys: Cracking the Money Code. London, UK: Allen Lane. ISBN 9780241003633.
  13. ^ David Glovin; Christine Harper (July 6, 2009). "Goldman Trading-Code Investment Put at Risk by Theft (Update3)". Bloomberg. Archived from the original on November 4, 2012. Retrieved August 10, 2012.
  14. ^ "Goldman Sachs breaks silence on alleged code theft". Archived from the original on 2009-09-22.
  15. ^ "Federal grand jury's indictment of Aleynikov". Internet Archive. June 13, 2013. Retrieved September 8, 2016.
  16. ^ "18 U.S. Code § 1832 - Theft of trade secrets". Legal Information Institute. Retrieved September 8, 2016.
  17. ^ "18 U.S. Code § 2314 - Transportation of stolen goods, securities, moneys, fraudulent State tax stamps, or articles used in counterfeiting". Legal Information Institute. Retrieved September 8, 2016.
  18. ^ "18 U.S. Code § 1030 - Fraud and related activity in connection with computers". Legal Information Institute. Retrieved September 9, 2016.
  19. ^ "Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Indictment Under Rule 12(b)(3)(B) (from United States v. Aleynikov)" (PDF). Trade Secrets Institute. Retrieved September 9, 2016.
  20. ^ "Opinion and Order Regarding Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (from United States v. Aleynikov)" (PDF). Trade Secrets Institute. Retrieved September 9, 2016.
  21. ^ a b "Former Goldman Sachs Computer Programmer Sentenced in Manhattan Federal Court to 97 Months in Prison for Stealing Firm's Trade Secrets". U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of New York. U.S. Department of Justice. March 18, 2011. Retrieved September 6, 2016.
  22. ^ Bill Singer (March 22, 2011). "Former Goldman Sachs Programmer Sentenced in Federal Criminal Case". Forbes. Retrieved August 10, 2012.
  23. ^ Peter Lattman (March 2, 2011). "Judge Unexpectedly Imprisons Ex-Goldman Programmer". The New York Times. Retrieved August 10, 2012.
  24. ^ "United States v. Aleynikov". The Trade Secrets Institute. Brooklyn Law School. Retrieved September 6, 2016.
  25. ^ a b "United States v. Aleynikov" (PDF). United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. April 11, 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 14, 2014. Retrieved August 10, 2012.
  26. ^ Lattman, Peter (October 22, 2013). "Judge Orders Goldman to Pay Ex-Programmer's Legal Bills". DealBook.
  27. ^ Lattman, Peter (October 23, 2013). "Goldman Sachs must pay ex-VP's legal bills". Boston Globe. Retrieved September 7, 2016.
  28. ^ Philips, Matthew (February 23, 2012). "Goldman vs. the Programmer: Bad News All Around". Bloomberg. Retrieved September 8, 2016.
  29. ^ "Government not filing a petition for rehearing". U.S. Department of Justice. May 29, 2012. Archived from the original on September 4, 2012.
  30. ^ "S.3642 - Theft of Trade Secrets Clarification Act of 2012". Library of Congress. December 28, 2012. Retrieved September 7, 2016.
  31. ^ a b c "People vs. Aleynikov". NYS Unified Court System. Retrieved September 7, 2016.
  32. ^ "Former Goldman Sachs programmer charged with illegally taking proprietary computer code". The New York County District Attorney's Office. August 9, 2012. Retrieved September 9, 2016.
  33. ^ "Sergey Aleynikov, Goldman Programmer Accused Of Code Theft, Faces New Charges". Reuters. August 9, 2012. Retrieved August 10, 2012.
  34. ^ a b "NYPL S 165.07: Unlawful use of secret scientific material". A comprehensive on-line digest of NY's criminal code. Retrieved September 8, 2016.
  35. ^ a b "NYPL S 156.30: Unlawful duplication of computer related material in the first degree". A comprehensive on-line digest of NY's criminal code. Retrieved September 8, 2016.
  36. ^ Pater Lattman (September 27, 2012). "Lawyer for Ex-Goldman Programmer Criticizes Prosecutors and Firm". New York Times.
  37. ^ Stempel, Jonathan (April 30, 2013). "Former Goldman programmer fails to win dismissal of code theft case". Reuters. Retrieved September 29, 2016.
  38. ^ "Judge throws out evidence in Sergey Aleynikov's code theft case". The New York Times. June 20, 2014.
  39. ^ Dolmetsch, Chris (June 21, 2014). "'Flash Boys' Programmer Gets Some Evidence Thrown Out". Bloomberg. Retrieved September 7, 2016.
  40. ^ Protess, Ben; Goldstein, Matthew (May 1, 2015). "Ex-Goldman Sachs Programmer Found Guilty in Split Verdict". The New York Times. Retrieved May 1, 2015.
  41. ^ "Ex-Goldman Sachs programmer found guilty". The SF Gate. The New York Times. May 1, 2015. Retrieved September 7, 2016.
  42. ^ Pierson, Brendan (July 6, 2015). "N.Y. judge tosses conviction of ex-Goldman programmer Aleynikov". Reuters. Retrieved September 8, 2016.
  43. ^ "Justice Convisor's opinion". The New York Times. July 6, 2015.
  44. ^ a b c Cleary, Tom (April 4, 2016). "Sergey Aleynikov Case: New York District Attorney Files Appeal [Docs]". Heavy, Inc. Retrieved September 7, 2016.
  45. ^ "Aleynikov on the Hook Again for Taking HFT Code From Goldman". Bloomberg. January 24, 2017.
  46. ^ a b "People v Aleynikov". N.Y. Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department. January 24, 2017.
  47. ^ "Ex-Goldman programmer's code theft conviction revived by New York court". Reuters. January 24, 2017 – via
  48. ^ Convisor, Daniel, 330.30 Motion Opinion
  49. ^ "Ex-Goldman 'flash boy' wins right to appeal his conviction". New York Post. Reuters. April 24, 2017. Retrieved June 20, 2017.
  50. ^ "Judge narrows ex-Goldman programmer's lawsuit vs FBI agents". Reuters. June 16, 2016 – via
  51. ^ "Judge Trims Ex-Goldman Coder's Malicious Prosecution Suit - Law360".

External links[edit]

Conviction Overturned & Complete Acquittal