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Supreme Court opens door to Sheldon Silver corruption retrial

Former State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on Nov.

Former State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on Nov. 13, 2015. Credit: John Roca

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to hear former Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver’s bid to block his retrial on corruption charges, paving the way for a planned April 16 start to Silver’s new trial in Manhattan federal court.

Silver’s conviction on charges that he took payoffs disguised as legal fees in return for using his clout in Albany to benefit developers and a cancer researcher was overturned last year by the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals because of flawed jury instructions.

Prosecutors immediately said they would pursue a retrial after the Second Circuit ruling, but Silver asked the Supreme Court to intervene and prohibit any retrial on the grounds that the government produced insufficient evidence for a properly instructed jury to find him guilty.

But the Supreme Court rejected the long-shot bid, declining to take up the case in an order without any opinion. The Second Circuit previously had ruled that there was enough evidence to uphold a conviction if a jury that was instructed correctly found Silver guilty.

The once-powerful ex-speaker, who headed the Assembly for more than 20 years, had been sentenced to 12 years in jail after his original conviction, but never served any time while the case was on appeal.

At his 2015 trial, evidence showed that Silver, 73, sponsored state grants to mesothelioma researcher Dr. Robert Taub, who helped generate fees for Silver by referring patients to his law firm, and backed legislation favored by developers who used a tax law firm affiliated with Silver.

The Second Circuit found that a new Supreme Court decision narrowing public corruption laws in a case involving former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell required different instructions than those used by Manhattan U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni.

The Supreme Court said that in the future, bribery-related charges would require that any official act performed as part of a quid pro quo would have to involve a formal exercise of government power, not just a meeting or a phone call.

Silver’s case included acts that appeared to meet that standard — pushing legislative grants and backing real estate legislation — and lesser favors, such as trying to get Taub’s child a job and helping get a permit for a charity race.

Silver’s lawyer said he was disappointed by the outcome but hopeful about the retrial.

“We regret the court’s decision,” said defense lawyer Steve Molo. “We believe the case was ripe for review. We intend to go forward and get a great result for our client.”

Interim U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman’s office declined to comment.

Silver’s retrial is one of several Albany corruption cases on the Manhattan federal court calendar this year. Former gubernatorial aide Joseph Percoco goes on trial next week. One-time SUNY official Alain Kaloyeros has a June 11 trial. Ex-Senate leader Dean Skelos’ retrial starts June 18.

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