EX-Speaker of NY State Assembly Sheldon Silver Found Guilty of Fraud, Extortion, Money Laundering
Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver arrives at the courthouse in New York, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015. A jury heard Silver's corruption case boiled down to two conflicting portrayals of the once-powerful Democrat: one as a greedy lawmaker who enriched himself with bribery and another as a seasoned politician who played by the rules regarding outside income. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

EX-Speaker of NY State Assembly Sheldon Silver Found Guilty of Fraud, Extortion, Money Laundering


Sheldon Silver, who held a seemingly intractable grip on power for decades as one of the most feared politicians in New York State, was found guilty on Monday of federal corruption charges, ending a trial that was the capstone of the government’s efforts to expose the seamy culture of influence-peddling in Albany.


The verdict was a quick and unceremonious end for Mr. Silver, who, during his more than two decades as the State Assembly speaker, displayed a Teflon-like quality in deflecting questions about his outside income as well as calls for his ouster.

Mr. Silver, 71, a Manhattan Democrat, was convicted on all seven counts against him. The charges of honest services fraud, extortion and money laundering stemmed from schemes by which he obtained nearly $4 million in exchange for using his position to help benefit a cancer researcher and two real estate developers.

The son of a hardware store owner on the Lower East Side, Mr. Silver was known as a poker-faced negotiator who often got his way during budget negotiations, sometimes by simply holding out the longest. At the same time, he was also a fierce defender of New York City in the state Capitol.

As a result of the conviction, he must automatically forfeit the Assembly seat to which he was first elected nearly 40 years ago.

The verdict came on the jury’s third day of deliberations, after a five-week trial in Federal District Court in Manhattan. When word came that a verdict had been reached, Mr. Silver fidgeted in his chair, clenched his jaw, shook his head, sighed and glanced toward Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, who had taken a seat at the rear of the courtroom just before the verdict was read.

After the fourth guilty pronouncement by the jury forewoman, Mr. Silver’s shoulders sagged visibly inside his baggy navy blue suit. No sentencing date was set, but he could face up to 20 years in prison on each of six of the seven counts. His lawyers indicated that they would file motions to challenge the verdict.

Steven F. Molo, one of Mr. Silver’s lawyers, said the defense was “obviously disappointed in the verdict, and we intend to file vigorous post-trial motions seeking to set it aside.”

“We’ll take it from there,” he continued.

Reporters mobbed Mr. Silver as he left the courthouse. He said he was “disappointed” in the verdict. “Ultimately I believe after we file the legal challenges we will have a different result,” he added.

Asked by one reporter what he would say to constituents who had supported him over the years, he responded, “Thank you.” His lawyers then guided him through the crowd and into a waiting black sedan.

Mr. Bharara released an equally succinct statement after the verdict: “Today, Sheldon Silver got justice, and at long last, so did the people of New York.”

Mr. Silver is the most prominent in a parade of state lawmakers who have been convicted by Mr. Bharara’s office. Mr. Silver’s former counterpart, State Senator Dean G. Skelos, a Republican from Long Island who served as Senate majority leader, is also being tried on federal corruption charges; his case, which also includes Mr. Skelos’s son, Adam, entered its third week on Monday.

For portions of his tenure as speaker, Mr. Silver maintained a viselike hold on the Assembly, withstanding the rare challenge from Democratic colleagues, and brushing off all criticism of his performance. He was faulted for his handling of two sexual harassment allegations; in 2013, a state ethics report criticized him for covering up accusations of sexual harassment against Assemblyman Vito J. Lopez.

Mr. Silver also stood out in financial disclosure reports that showed him to be one of the largest earners of outside income among New York State politicians, reporting that he had been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by a law firm, Weitz & Luxenberg. That arrangement would become one of the focal points of the government’s case.

At Mr. Silver’s trial, the government presented evidence that prosecutors said showed he had orchestrated two schemes through which he obtained nearly $4 million in illegal payments for taking official actions that benefited a prominent cancer researcher, Dr. Robert N. Taub, at Columbia University, and two New York real estate development firms.

Testimony and other evidence showed that Mr. Silver had arranged to have the State Health Department award two grants totaling $500,000 to Dr. Taub, whose research focused on mesothelioma, a deadly form of cancer related to asbestos exposure.

In return, Dr. Taub sent mesothelioma patients with potentially lucrative legal claims to Weitz & Luxenberg, which then shared a portion of its fees with Mr. Silver.

In the second scheme, prosecutors charged, Mr. Silver had the two developers, Glenwood Management and the Witkoff Group, move certain tax business to a law firm, Goldberg & Iryami, that secretly shared its fees with Mr. Silver.

In return, the speaker lent his support to critical rent legislation backed by Glenwood, in particular, and met with the company’s lobbyists.

Mr. Silver attended each day of his trial, often wearing a pinstripe suit. For the most part he sat quietly, chatting occasionally with his lawyers, or making notes for their review. He did not testify in his defense, and his lawyers did not call any witnesses.

Mr. Silver’s lawyers argued that in charging him, Mr. Bharara’s office had sought to criminalize the kinds of activity in which state legislators routinely engaged.

“They look at conduct which is legal,” Mr. Molo told the jury in his opening statement, “conduct which is normal, conduct which allows government to function consistent with the way that our founding fathers of the State of New York wanted it to function, and they say this is illegal.”

A federal prosecutor, Howard S. Master, in a summation, cited what he called the “core principle” that “this nation shall be governed by the people and for the people.”

Mr. Silver “governed using a different model,” Mr. Master said.

“It wasn’t by the people or for the people,” he continued. “It was by Sheldon Silver for Sheldon Silver.”

Although the deliberations only lasted three days, they were not without drama.

Last week, as the jury first convened to deliberate, a juror sent a note to the judge, Valerie E. Caproni, asking to be excused from the case and saying she was “feeling pressured, stressed out … told that I’m not using my common sense, my heart is pounding and my head feels weird.”

“I am so stressed out right now that I can’t even write normally,” the juror added. “I don’t feel like I can be myself right now! I need to leave!”

On Monday, a second juror asked to be removed from the case, citing a conflict of interest related to his job. The juror, Kenneth Graham, a taxi driver, told the judge he had learned during the Thanksgiving recess that the owner of the medallion cab he drove was a good friend of Mr. Silver’s, and belonged to the same synagogue as the assemblyman.

In both cases, the judge kept the jurors on the case.

After the verdict, Mr. Graham described the deliberations as “hard,” refusing to elaborate as he left the courthouse.

Another juror, Arleen Phillips, 53, of Mount Vernon, N.Y., identified herself as the person who wrote to the judge last week asking to be excused. In an interview outside the courthouse after the verdict, Ms. Phillips explained how her opinion had changed and allowed her to join the unanimous vote to find Mr. Silver guilty on all counts.

She said she had been the only juror who doubted Mr. Silver’s guilt at first. “There were people who did not want to listen to anything I had to say — not many, a few,” she said. “It was tense and I just wanted to get out of there.”

About Alexis Sostre

Entrepreneur, contributor, writer, and editor of Sostre News. With a powerful new bi-lingual speaking generation by his side, Sostre News is becoming the preferred site for the latest in Politics, Entertainment, Sports, Culture, Tech, Breaking and World News.

Check Also

Cajun Navy Brings Boats From Louisiana to Help Flood-Ravaged Houston

Cajun Navy Brings Boats From Louisiana to Help Flood-Ravaged Houston

As the full scope of Hurricane Harvey's devastation continues to come into focus, a group of volunteer rescue crews, who call themselves the "Cajun Navy," has risen to the occasion, responding to calls for help from victims of the unprecedented flooding in southeastern Texas...