The jury began deliberating in the retrial of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on Thursday after daylong closing arguments.
U.S. District Court Judge Valerie E. Caproni spent about an hour reading instructions to the seven women and five men who compose the jury. They left the courtroom at 4:45 p.m. to elect a foreman and begin discussing the case. The jury adjourned for the day at 5:30 p.m.
Earlier Thursday, a federal prosecutor and Silver’s lead attorney offered contrasting portraits of the man that once was one of the state government’s three most powerful individuals.
Prosecutor Tatiana Martins told jurors that Silver used his position as Assembly speaker to extort nearly $4 million in bribes in return for directing state actions to benefit a cancer doctor and two real estate developers. Silver then allegedly invested the money, reaping an additional $1 million, the prosecutor said in Manhattan federal court.
Martins accused Silver of “abusing his office for money . . . he corrupted his office to make himself rich” during closing arguments on the eighth day of Silver’s retrial on federal corruption charges.
Silver’s lawyer Michael S. Feldberg said, “It is perfectly legal for New York State legislators to earn outside income . . . Even if you think it’s slimy, that’s no reason to find Shelly Silver guilty of any of the crimes charged.”
Silver, 74, has been charged with seven counts of honest services mail fraud, honest services wire fraud, extortion under color of official right and money laundering.
He has denied wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty to all the charges. His retrial began April 30.
The retrial has been largely a repeat of Silver’s corruption trial and conviction in 2015. The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted Silver’s appeal request in 2017 but said there were grounds for another trial.
The appeals court said Caproni’s instructions to jurors in 2015 did not comply with a later U.S. Supreme Court decision that narrowed the acts required to convict public officials in a quid pro quo bribery scheme to formal exercises of government power, not just meetings or telephone calls.
On Thursday, the judge told jurors that Silver’s actions had to involve “more than setting up a meeting, expressing support for an idea or consulting with a lobbyist or official . . . He had to take an official action or cause an official action to take place.”
The prosecution alleges that Silver masterminded two quid pro quo schemes over about a decade .
The first involves cancer patients being referred by the legislator to the Weitz & Luxenberg personal injury law firm.
Manhattan-based Weitz & Luxenberg paid Silver more than $3 million in referral fees from legal settlements and verdicts won on behalf of 48 patients suffering from mesothelioma, a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, according to the federal indictment.
Silver received names and contact information for people diagnosed with mesothelioma from Dr. Robert Taub, a then-Columbia University physician. Taub in turn received $500,000 in state research grants allegedly at Silver’s direction.
Silver also helped Taub’s son and daughter secure jobs and steered a state grant to a charity started by Taub’s wife, the indictment states.
Silver was “of counsel” to Weitz & Luxenberg, earning a salary of $120,000 per year, but did little work there, according to the prosecution.
The second quid pro quo scheme involves Silver improperly receiving $700,000 in referral fees from a tax law firm, Goldberg & Iryami in Manhattan, for steering cases to the firm from two developers, who were seeking Silver’s support for legislation before the Assembly, the indictment states.
The developers wanted Silver — who was Assembly speaker for nearly 21 years — to extend a state law giving tax breaks to developers of apartment buildings that include affordable units alongside luxury units. They also wanted to limit any expansion of rent control in New York City, according to the indictment.
On Thursday, Martins, in her closing argument for the prosecution, said Silver’s actions were “not normal, they were criminal” and motivated by his desire to become a millionaire.
Martins told the jury, “This is bribery. This is extortion. This is corruption. This is the real thing. Don’t let it stand.”
Feldberg, presenting Silver’s defense, said testimony from prosecution witnesses shows that Silver never explicitly traded his office for cash. He cited an email from Taub, the cancer doctor, to an associate: “You may think I feel beholden to Shelly, but I don’t,” Taub wrote.
Feldberg continued, “There is no witness. There is no document. There is no evidence of anything that was a quid pro quo.”