A federal judge on Friday sentenced former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to serve 7 years in prison for corruption, chastising a man who once was the most powerful Democrat in state government for using his position to solicit bribes.
“Mr. Silver seems to have not come to terms with what many people think about politicians — that they are deeply corrupt,” said U.S. District Court Judge Valerie E. Caproni, who also called for tougher state ethics laws during the 70-minute sentencing in federal court in Manhattan.
Before his sentence was announced, Silver slowly rose from his courtroom chair and pleaded with the judge: “I ask you to show your mercy.”
Silver acknowledged his actions “had brought a great distrust” in New York government. “I am extremely, extremely remorseful for that,” he said.
Reacting to the Silver sentencing, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said, “We hope today’s fittingly stiff sentence sends a clear message: brokering official favors for your personal benefit is illegal and will result in prison time.”
In addition to the prison sentence, Silver was must pay a fine of $1.75 million and forfeit a minimum of $3 million. He also faces 3 years’ supervised release.
The 74-year-old Manhattan resident is scheduled to surrender Oct. 5 to begin his incarceration.
In May during a retrial on federal corruption charges, jurors found Silver guilty of all seven counts of improperly receiving $4 million in referral fees in return for directing state actions that benefited a Columbia University cancer doctor and two real estate developers. The quid-pro-quo schemes took place for about 10 years when Silver ruled the Assembly. He also invested his ill-gotten gains, earning an additional $1 million.
After the sentencing, Silver sat slumped in a chair with his head slightly bowed. His wife, Rosa, tilted her head back against the courtroom wall.
Minutes later, Silver turned to his son-in-law and asked about a Jewish holiday in early October. Silver, an Orthodox Jew, then requested his surrender date to federal authorities be moved from Oct. 1 to Oct. 5 so that he could mark the holiday. The judge quickly agreed.
In sentencing a one-time member of Albany’s powerful “three men in a room,” the judge called for tougher state ethics laws, which the governor and State Legislature so far have failed to adopt despite the convictions of Silver, former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, former top aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Joseph Percoco, and dozens of state lawmakers.
“This has to stop!” Caproni said. “New York State has to get its act together and do something institutionally.”
The sentence was five years less jail time than Silver received after he was convicted at his first trial in 2015. He faced a maximum of 21 to 27 years in prison based on federal sentencing guidelines.
The amount of forfeiture will be determined next month at a court hearing in Manhattan. Previously, Silver was ordered to forfeit $5.3 million.
Silver’s attorneys requested that he be sent to the medium-security prison in upstate Otisville in Orange County. He remains free on bail until he surrenders.
Caproni said she considered Silver’s age and his health — he is a prostate cancer survivor — in deciding the sentence. She also said she factored in his refusal to admit to law-breaking.
“Visually he has aged more than the three years that have gone by chronologically” since the 2015 trial, the judge said. “While Mr. Silver feels bad” [about his actions] . . . his inability to admit what 24 New Yorkers concluded in two trials,” that he committed crimes, is troubling.
Outside the courthouse after the sentencing, Silver told reporters that he doesn’t believe he will go to jail. “I’m going to appeal the whole case . . . I feel fine,” he said before getting into a waiting car.
The retrial, which began April 30, was largely a repeat of Silver’s 2015 trial except that this time, the jury took about one day to render a verdict. The seven women and five men deliberated for about eight hours. In 2015, the verdict came on the third day of deliberations.
Prosecutors, as they did previously, asked Caproni to give Silver a prison term of more than 14 years — which would be the longest sentence ever for a state legislator.
“What he did was corrupt his office for more than 10 years . . . He did it deliberately, thoughtfully and carefully,” prosecutor Daniel Richenthal told the judge on Friday. “He needs to be punished accordingly.”
Silver attorney Michael Feldberg asked for leniency, saying Silver could “atone” for his crimes by speaking to new state lawmakers and helping residents navigate state bureaucracy through a helpline.
“Instead of warehousing him in a facility where he will wither away, forgotten . . . he could be put in a position where he is constantly atoning for his crime and helping people,” Feldberg said.
The retrial occurred because a U.S. Supreme Court decision narrowed the definition of one of the crimes Silver had been convicted of in 2015. The high court said a public official had to do more than make a telephone call or arrange a meeting to be guilty of participating in a quid-pro-quo bribery scheme.
During both trials, the prosecution alleged that Silver orchestrated two quid-pro-quo schemes.
The first involved 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 and testimony.
Silver received names and contact information for people diagnosed with mesothelioma from Dr. Robert Taub, then a Columbia 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. He lost the job after being indicted.
The second quid-pro-quo scheme involved 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, according to testimony.
The developers wanted Silver to extend a state law giving tax breaks to developers of apartment buildings that include affordable units alongside luxury units.
Asked Friday outside the courthouse about grounds for an appeal, Feldberg, Silver’s lawyer, said, “Mr. Silver will undoubtedly appeal. There are significant legal issues in the case.”
In addition to the Silver trials, Caproni this year oversaw the trials of Percoco, ex-SUNY official Alain Kaloyeros and developers from Buffalo and Syracuse in bid-rigging cases tied to Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion economic development initiative. All the trials ended in convictions.
Earlier this month, Skelos and his son Adam were found guilty of corruption in three quid-pro-quo schemes, one of which involved a developer in the Silver case. The Rockville Centre pair will be sentenced in October.