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Former NY State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver sentenced to 6½ years in prison

Former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver,

Former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, center, exits a federal courthouse in Manhattan after being sentenced on Monday. Credit: Charles Eckert

A federal judge in Manhattan on Monday sentenced former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to 6½ years in prison for his conviction on corruption charges, completing the downfall of a politician who once was the most powerful Democrat in New York’s government.

The 78-month sentence came after an appeals court in January upheld four of seven corruption count convictions following Silver’s retrial in 2018, affirming that he used his position to solicit bribes.

U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Caproni described his actions as "corruption, pure and simple" and also sentenced the former politician to a $1 million fine and two years of post-release supervision.

Silver, 76, called the use of his political office for personal gain selfish and unethical.

The former Albany power broker also said his actions were the result of "a misplaced sense of entitlement and loss of perspective" as an elected official.

"I know that a lot of people have lost faith in their government ... I know that my actions contributed to that loss of faith ... It's very painful for me and I'm sorry," Silver said, adding that he had destroyed his legacy of 35 years of public service.

"My use of my office for personal gain was improper, selfish and ethically indefensible ... I want to be clear: What I did was wrong," Silver also said.

While sentencing him for the third time, Caproni alluded to his convictions by two different juries for what she called selling his office in two separate schemes.

"I think a sentence long enough to send a message to Albany and yet short enough to give Mr. Silver the prospect of emerging from prison is appropriate," the judge said.

In May 2018, a Manhattan federal jury convicted Silver of charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, extortion and money laundering.

Jurors found that Silver accepted millions of dollars in referral fees in return for directing state actions that benefited two real estate developers from New Hyde Park-based Glenwood Management and a Columbia University-based cancer researcher.

But the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in January found fault with instructions given to a jury involving Silver’s dealings with the cancer researcher, specifically regarding what constitutes a quid pro quo.

Prosecutors alleged that Silver steered state grants to the researcher who then sent clients to Silver’s law firm to possibly pursue legal claims related to mesothelioma — before the firm paid Silver $3 million in referral fees.

However, the three-judge panel found insufficient evidence to prove that Silver had promised state grants or any help to the researcher.

The court upheld other convictions related to accusations that Silver accepted $700,000 in fees from a Manhattan tax law firm for steering cases to it from Glenwood developers, who were seeking Silver’s support for rent-control legislation in Albany and in other matters.

Silver’s 2018 conviction was a repeat of the verdict that followed his first trial in 2015 on the same charges.

His first conviction was reversed in 2017, and a new trial ordered, following a U.S. Supreme Court decision involving a former Virginia governor that narrowed the definition of one of the crimes Silver was convicted of in 2015.

The nation’s highest court said a public official had to do more than make a telephone call or arrange a meeting to be guilty of taking part in a quid pro quo bribery scheme.

In 2018, Caproni had sentenced Silver to seven years in prison after he said he was “extremely remorseful” that his actions “had brought a great distrust” in state government. The judge said she considered his age and his health as a prostate cancer survivor, along with his refusal to admit to breaking the law.

In 2015, she had sentenced the ex-politician to 12 years in prison, saying she hoped the idea of Silver “living out his golden years in an orange jumpsuit” would keep other politicians honest.

Silver, who had represented Manhattan’s Lower East Side, resigned as Assembly speaker — a post he held for nearly 21 years — after his 2015 indictment. Preet Bharara, then U.S. Attorney for the Southern District based in Manhattan, said the indictment was meant to “clean up Albany.”

The defendant's Manhattan attorney, James Loonam, asked Monday for a sentence of home confinement and community service for his client, citing in part Silver's age, health and the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We recognize his conduct was serious. These are just extraordinary times," the appeals lawyer said while speaking of the coronavirus.

Loonam also lauded what he called the ex-politician's good work on behalf of constituents. 

But federal prosecutor Daniel Richenthal asked the judge to impose the same or a similar sentence as last time.

"He abused his office. He did it for profit. He did it for at least 15 years. He did it in multiple ways and he lied about it for years in multiple ways," he added.

The judge ordered Silver to surrender to prison officials by noon on Aug. 26.

Southern District Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement that Silver finally will "begin serving a sentence that can begin to repair the harm his conduct caused" and commended law enforcement officials who saw the case through two trials and two appeals.

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