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Sheldon Silver applies for state pension after conviction

Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on

Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on Monday, Nov. 30, 2015. Credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt

ALBANY — The day after former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was convicted of federal corruption charges he filed for a state pension that makes him eligible for an estimated $85,000 to $98,000 in annual benefits.

Silver’s pension would be effective Tuesday, the day he submitted his application, the state Comptroller’s Office confirmed Thursday. The Democrat automatically lost his Assembly seat Monday when he was convicted on charges of corruption, extortion, money laundering and collecting nearly $4 million in kickbacks and bribes.

Newsday estimates Silver’s pension benefit will be more than $85,000, based on the factors that the comptroller’s office uses to calculate pensions. The Empire Center for Public Policy, a think tank that tracks public pension costs, said Silver’s pension may be as high as $98,000 if additional factors such as his pre-Albany experience as a New York City Civil Court clerk and other service credits are included.

The comptroller’s office, which manages the pension system, would not provide an estimate because of the many factors that affect pensions. Those include the 71-year-old Democrat’s 44 years of state employment, his inclusion in the state pension’s system Tier I, and other factors such as whether he provides part of it directly to his wife.

Silver, who was paid $121,000 a year in base pay as Speaker, had served in the seat representing lower Manhattan since 1976.

Public pensions in New York are guaranteed under the state constitution even against criminal convictions.

One factor that also may affect Silver’s pension is the fact that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who prosecuted Silver, has been clawing back public pensions of convicted officials through fines and other measures. A judge will have to determine that as part of sentencing. Silver’s sentencing date isn’t yet set.

Silver has said he plans to appeal the verdict.

His corruption trial and the continuing corruption trial of former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) have revived calls by good-government groups and some legislators to deny or restrict pensions for convicted politicians. Skelos, who made the same salary and has a similarly long career, is eligible for a similar pension as Silver.

“It’s outrageous,” said Dick Dadey of Citizens Union, a good-government group. “This is one of the ways that Albany is corrupt, by continuing to pay pensions to officials who violate the public trust.”

In August, Newsday reported that at least 13 former state elected officials who were convicted of corruption and other charges are eligible to collect state pension checks totaling more than $604,000 a year.

Efforts to suspend pensions for those convicted of felonies committed in the public jobs have been limited in the State Legislature. Only legislators elected since 2011 face that sanction.

“There is no more profound a trust than that which is bestowed upon an elected official by the electorate,” said Suffolk County Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore). “When that contract of trust is broken by the employee, the consequences should extend to any benefits due the employee.”

He and several other county legislators on Thursday called for Albany to require public officials convicted of felonies to forfeit their pensions.

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