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Sheldon Silver's corruption conviction largely upheld

Former New York State Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver

Former New York State Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver walks from federal court on May 11, 2018. Credit: Craig Ruttle

A federal court on Tuesday dismissed some corruption counts against former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, but upheld most of his 2018 conviction, meaning one of the most powerful New York lawmakers of the last generation is likely to serve prison time.

The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction of Silver, 75, on four counts of seven counts associated with allegations he pocketed money for doing political favors for people who had interests in Albany, including two real estate agents with Glenwood Management, the influential and politically big spending company based in New Hyde Park.

The circuit court sent the case back to a lower court for resentencing, giving Silver a chance to reduce the seven-year prison sentence a judge ordered two years ago. But the court's affirmation of four charges means Silver would have to get the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the rest of the charges for him to go free altogether.

Meir Feder, Silver's Manhattan-based appellate attorney, declined to comment.

It marked the latest turn in the saga of the politician who ruled the state Assembly for 20 years, the second-longest tenure in New York history.

Silver initially was convicted in 2015, had it overturned when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision that changed the definition of crimes he was charged with, and was retried and convicted in 2018.

Following Silver’s second conviction, a judge had allowed him to remain free on bail, pending a ruling by the Second Circuit.

The three-judge panel determined that instructions given in 2018 to the jury involving Silver’s dealings with the Columbia University-based cancer researcher were faulty about what constitutes a quid pro quo — enough to merit them being overturned.

Prosecutors had alleged Silver steered state grants to the researcher who in turn directed clients to Silver’s law firm to possibly pursue legal claims related to mesothelioma. The firm then paid Silver more than $3 million in referral fees.

The circuit court said there was insufficient evidence to prove Silver had promised state grants or any help to the researcher.

However, the court upheld the other charges against Silver, alleging he received $700,000 in fees from a Manhattan tax-law firm for steering cases to it from Glenwood developers who were seeking Silver’s support for rent-control legislation in Albany, along with other matters.

“In June 2011, Silver met with Glenwood’s lobbyists in his Assembly office,” Judge Richard Wesley wrote for the court. “The lobbyists proposed that certain rent stabilization provisions in the Rent Act of 2011 be made more tenant‐friendly to ensure passage of the larger ‘full bill’ that included renewal of the specific tax abatement program important to Glenwood. Several weeks later, the bill passed to the ‘satisfaction’ of Glenwood.”

The judge concluded: “It is clear beyond a reasonable doubt that a rational jury would have found that the real estate scheme concerned sufficiently “focused and concrete” matters “involving a formal exercise of governmental power,” Judge Richard Wesley wrote for the court.

Wesley is a former Republican state assemblyman from the Rochester area and a former judge on New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.

With Robert Brodsky

State & Region