As the Sheldon Silver corruption trial continues to reveal damning evidence against one of New York State’s most influential political king makers, it has now surfaced that the former speaker of the New York State Assembly has made millions through two corrupt schemes. These allegations were put forth to the jury hearing the case on Monday by a federal prosecutor. Andrew D. Goldstein told jurors that Silver should be sent to jail on all seven counts of corruption against him during his closing arguments.
Hurling a litany of nefarious accusations against Silver during the three-week corruption trial that has dominated the headlines, Goldstein told jurors, “What you heard during this trial is what Sheldon Silver secretly has been doing for years: Cheating, lying and getting away with it. His services were corrupted by his greed and lies, by bribery, kickbacks and extortion.”
The government evidence against Silver, 71, included the “quid pro quo” policy that translates into Silver pulling important and powerful strings in return for hefty payments of cash. A case in point was when Goldstein told jurors of the many political favors that Silver did for people he barely knew; all in the hopes of receiving a sizable dividend. He recounted the myriad details of Silver providing $500,000 in taxpayer underwritten grants to a one Dr. Robert Taub.
Goldstein made it clear to jurors that Silver barely knew him as was evidenced by the fact that he did not even have Taub’s cell phone number. In order to reciprocate for the “favors” that Silver was doing for him, Taub referred asbestos victims seeking to file suit to Silver’s personal injury firm, known as Weitz & Luxenberg.
During the trial, the managing attorney for Weitz & Luxenberg, Gary Klein, testified that Catharine O’Leary, who passed away in 2006, was the first of the 25 to 50 mesothelioma patients that Taub testified that he sent to Silver.
Klein testified that Silver received nearly $3.4 million in exchange for referring asbestos cases to Weitz & Luxenberg. Klein also said that Silver collected an additional $804,000 by referring negligence cases.
Former Assistant Attorney General Richard Rodgers testified during the trial as well, explaining to jurors about the reforms that the then-Attorney General Andrew Cuomo instituted in 2007.
Also on Monday, prosecutors revealed great insight into the state finances controlled by Silver through the testimony of a relatively unknown staff member on the Assembly Ways and Means Committee who holds the title deputy budget director for budget studies. Victor E. Franco elaborated on the budgetary process during his second day of testimony, which drove home the point for prosecutors that Silver controlled it all, especially the Health Department grants, with little over sight.
In terms of laying out the specifics of the quid pro quo deal for the jury, Goldstein said, “The defendant got one hell of a quid from the asbestos scheme. The defendant gave Dr. Taub all kinds of quo.”
In the third week of the trial, a developer took the stand, and Glenwood Management lobbyist Richard Runes testified. Both claim that they and their companies had no knowledge initially of the sideways schemes that Silver was concocting, and by the time they discovered the truth, it was too late.
“If you hold a tiger by the tail, you have a difficult choice to make: whether to let go or not. It was a difficult situation. We had the choice of terminating the relationship,” Runes said. “And thereby letting go of the tail?” prosecutor Howard Master prodded. “Yes. Or continuing the relationship,” replied Runes. “What were you concerned he could do to you if you decided to let go?” Master asked.“It’s not a good thing to alienate any legislative leader,” Runes said.
“Theoretically, the speaker could suggest or negotiate changes that would be bad for our business model.’’
$700,000 was collected by Silver in illegal kickbacks from law firm Goldberg & Iryami for steering Glenwood’s business to it, allege prosecutors. In exchange, Glenwood received favorable treatment in Albany.
Runes testified that it wasn’t until another executive from Glenwood became aware of Silver’s arrangement with Goldberg & Iryami around Christmas of 2011 that he found out.
Goldstein told jurors that Silver “hit people up using his official power. He lied and he lied, again and again, to keep anyone from learning the truth.”
In previous testimony during the trial, developer Steve Witkoff of the Witkoff Group testified that he answered Silver’s request at a lunch in 2005 and began sending tax cases involving five Manhattan buildings to the Goldberg & Iryami firm.
Witkoff said that it was not until 2014 that he found out about the fee-split. Jay Goldberg called and informed Witkoff that he and Silver were under investigation for the fee-splitting and "he asked me to remember that I knew about the fee-splitting."
Witkoff told the jury, "I was incensed and belligerent. Mr. Goldberg was asking me to remember something that was simply not the case in my view."
He explained how upset he was that Silver did not previously inform him about the fee-splitting.
"He's an elected official and we would have been concerned to make sure we weren't doing anything wrong, anything illegal or illegitimate," Witkoff testified.
Witkoff, among other witnesses from Glenwood, had testified that they were not told that Silver would get a share of fees in the beginning. Witkoff did not testify that Silver ever offered to give anything in return for the referrals, and on cross-examination agreed there was no explicit quid pro quo.
Goldstein also claimed that Silver’s defense of his highly questionable behavior was “preposterous” – saying that Silver had attempted to justify his schemes with a “politics as usual” attitude.
According to a synopsis of the trial in the New York Post, Goldstein exhorted the jury to join him in his indictment and condemnation of Silver by telling them, “This was bribery. This was extortion. This was corruption – the real deal. Don’t let it stand.”
Reacting in a dismissive manor to the prosecutor’s charges was Silver defense attorney Steven Molo suggested to the jury that the prosecution had twisted what were long accepted workings of the Albany political machine into criminal activities.
According to an NYT report on the trial, Molo had said that the government took a look at legal conduct and said it was “conduct which allows government to function consistent with the way that our founding fathers of the State of New York wanted it to function, and they say this is illegal.”
The judge in the case, Valerie E. Caproni, had said in court that she denied a defense motion asking that she acquit Silver before the case went to the jury.
Silver did not testify on his behalf throughout the trial.