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Ex-Assembly Speaker Silver, fighting cancer, moved to prison hospital

Former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver

Former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver walks is seen on Friday, May 11, 2018. Credit: Craig Ruttle

ALBANY – Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has been transferred to a prison hospital in Massachusetts where a friend close to Silver says the longtime Democratic leader is fighting cancer and other illnesses.

Silver, 77, was one of the three most powerful elected officials in state government from 1994 to 2015, a period in which he was a formidable negotiator of budgets and policy under five governors. He has served about a year of a six-year sentence on federal corruption charges. He entered prison after retrials and appeals were exhausted in August 2020. He is scheduled to be released on March 10, 2026.

Silver was transferred from the federal prison at Otisville in Orange County to the Federal Medical Center at Devens on May 7, according to Harvey Weisenberg of Long Beach, a family friend who had served 25 years in the Assembly with Silver.

A federal prisons official confirmed Silver is now housed in the Devens facility, but could provide no comment on his condition or expected duration there. The prison hospital and its minimum-security camp for men holds 731 inmates.

Weisenberg said Silver was transferred a day after he returned to Otisville following a two-day furlough to his Manhattan home. Silver and his family had hoped to receive a permanent transfer home because of his ailing health, age and the threat of the COVID-19 virus.

Weisenberg said Silver has spent most of the past year in isolation at the Otisville medical facility while fighting cancer and trying to avoid contracting the virus. In January, then-President Donald Trump had planned to provide clemency for Silver, but that was scuttled after an uproar from Republicans in New York who fought bitter battles with the Democrat for years.

"The devastation to the family and this person is unbelievable," Weisenberg said. "People forget that he dedicated half his life to public service, helping people. If there was any wrongdoing or misdeeds, then he was guilty. But people today who are sick are sent out of prison to go home to get care … is this what politics has come to?"

Silver was first elected to the Assembly in 1976. He was New York’s top progressive Democratic leader for decades. To progressives, he was a leader in providing more aid to schools and the working poor while protecting civil rights. To his critics, Silver was a symbol of late state budgets, high spending and political gridlock.

He was originally sentenced to 14 years in prison for using his position to obtain almost $4 million in payments in a scheme that involved a cancer researcher and real estate sales. Two years later, the conviction was overturned on appeal, based on a new definition of what legally constitutes public corruption. He was retried in 2018, convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison. He won an appeal the following year that threw out part of his conviction, reducing his sentence almost by half.

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