Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver chose Wednesday not to take the stand in his retrial on federal corruption charges.
After the last prosecution witness had ended their testimony, U.S. District Court Judge Valerie E. Caproni addressed Silver, “You have a constitutional right to testify in your own defense. Do you wish to testify?”
Silver rose from his chair behind the defense table in Manhattan federal court and said simply: “No.”
Minutes earlier, Michael S. Feldberg, Silver’s lead attorney, had said the prosecution presented “no evidence of a quid pro quo in exchange for official acts” by Silver, who led the Assembly for nearly 21 years.
Feldberg said, “no reasonable jury could find Mr. Silver guilty of these charges beyond a reasonable doubt.” The lawyer asked Caproni to acquit Silver on all the charges.
The judge responded, “Motion denied. I believe there is more than sufficient evidence” as presented by prosecutors over seven days.
Silver, 74, also did not testify at his trial three years ago. He has denied wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty.
The jury is expected to begin deliberations Thursday after closing arguments. The retrial started on April 30.
Silver, a Democrat from lower Manhattan, has been accused of exploiting his position as an Albany power broker to extort nearly $4 million in bribes over about 10 years. He allegedly invested the money, making an additional $1 million, according to the federal indictment.
Prosecutors allege Silver was involved in two quid pro quo schemes.
Earlier this week, witnesses testified that Silver improperly received $700,000 in referral fees from a tax law firm, Goldberg & Iryami in Manhattan, for steering cases to the firm from two development companies, which were seeking Silver’s support for legislation before the Assembly.
The developers wanted Silver — who wielded immense power in the lower house of the State Legislature — to extend a 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.
Last week, jurors heard about another alleged quid pro quo scheme centered on cancer patients being referred by Silver 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 patients suffering from mesothelioma, a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.
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 at Silver’s direction, according to the indictment.
Silver was “of counsel” to Weitz & Luxenberg, earning $120,000 per year, but did little work for the firm, prosecutors said. He stepped down as speaker in 2015 because of the charges and lost his Weitz & Luxenberg job.
The retrial has been largely a repeat of Silver’s 2015 corruption trial and conviction. 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 Tuesday, Buffalo venture capitalist Jordan Levy testified that he helped Silver to invest some of the proceeds from the alleged quid pro quo schemes.
Silver told him the proceeds were “extra money,” Levy said, adding he didn’t know where the funds came from.
Silver invested in Counsel Financial, a Buffalo-area company that lends to law firms. Silver’s investment in Counsel Financial totaled $1.3 million out of his total portfolio of $1.7 million in 2014, records show.
Counsel was partially owned by the Weitz & Luxenberg law firm, where Silver worked.
Levy, under cross-examination by one of Silver’s attorneys, said the investments that he advised the then-legislator to make came with considerable risk. Levy said one company dissolved and Counsel Financial reduced the interest rate it pays to investors.
Levy also testified that Silver was concerned about conflicts of interest between his investment activity and his Assembly post.
The venture capitalist said Silver turned down a proposal to invest in a housing project for U.S. Army soldiers stationed at Fort Drum, near upstate Watertown, because the project had received tax breaks, including an exemption from state sales tax.
Levy said, “Shelly told me, ‘I cannot make that investment.’ ”