September 2013 issue
by Michael Lewis
August 1, 2013
A month after ace programmer Sergey Aleynikov left Goldman Sachs, he was arrested. Exactly what he’d done neither the F.B.I., which interrogated him, nor the jury, which convicted him a year later, seemed to understand. But Goldman had accused him of stealing computer code, and the 41-year-old father of three was sentenced to eight years in federal prison. Investigating Aleynikov’s case, Michael Lewis holds a second trial.
To Sergey Aleynikov’s new way of thinking, every American could benefit from some time in jail, but in the event that you are yourself actually arrested and sent away, “there are certain practical aspects to keep in mind.” First, dress warmly. Detention centers tend to be freezing cold, even in summer, and so if you happen to be wearing shorts or short sleeves you’re in for a spectacularly unhappy night. Second, carry no cash. “If you have money, they charge you a convenience fee,” he explains. “If you don’t have it, they don’t charge you. The less money you have on you, the better.” Third, memorize a couple of emergency contact phone numbers. On the night of his first arrest he discovered he didn’t actually know his wife’s cell-phone number. He’d always phoned her by name from his cell phone’s address book, but his phone was one of the first things they’d taken from him.
The fourth, and final, rule was by far the most important: Don’t say a word to government officials. “The reason you don’t,” he says, “is that, if you do, they can place an agent on a witness stand and he can say anything.”
On the night of July 3, 2009, as he came off a flight from Chicago to Newark, New Jersey, he was totally unprepared, because he’d never imagined himself as the sort of person who might commit a crime. He worked too much and took only the vaguest interest in his fellow human beings, but, up to the moment of his arrest, Aleynikov had no sense that there was anything wrong with him or his situation. On the surface, his life had never been better: his third child had just been born, he had a new job at a hedge fund that paid him a million dollars a year, and he’d just moved into a big new house of his own design that he thought of as the perfect home. He’d come to America 20 years ago with little English and less money. Now he was living the dream.