The saga of the downfall of a man who was at the apex of his political power on a local level was spotlighted on Tuesday afternoon, when a Manhattan federal court announced that disgraced NYS Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was to get 12 years behind bars for the six criminal counts against him in his corruption trial. He also received a second sentence of 10 months for a seventh criminal charge. The judge said that the jail terms would run concurrently.
In addition to spending time in the slammer, Silver, 72, was mandated by the court to make significant financial restitution. He is to come up with $5.2 million in graft money that he took while immersed in corruption related activities as well as $1.75 million in fines.
His sentence begins on July 1st.
Silver was found guilty of and convicted on seven criminal counts at the end of November.
The following at the precise counts:
Count 1: Honest-services mail fraud (asbestos scheme) Grants were steered by Silver to a Manhattan cancer doctor in exchange for patients being referred to his law firm; postal services were used to do so. Carries a possible maximum sentence of 20 years
Count 2: Honest-services wire fraud (asbestos scheme) Grants were steered by Silver to a Manhattan cancer doctor in exchange for patients being referred to his law firm; wire communications were used in the scheme. Carries a possible sentence of 20 years.
Count 3: Honest-services mail fraud (real-estate scheme) Silver received illegal kickbacks from a friend’s law firm in exchange for getting a major developer as a client; postal service were used to help carry out the scheme. Carries a possible sentence of 20 years.
Count 4: Honest-services wire fraud (real-estate scheme) Silver received illegal kickbacks from a friend’s law firm in exchange for getting a major developer as a client; wire communications were used to execute the scheme. Carries a possible sentence of 20 years.
Count 5: Extortion (asbestos scheme) Silver used the influence of his Assembly Speaker position to persuade Manhattan doctor Robert Taub to give Silver’s law firm cancer patient referrals. Carries a possible sentence of 20 years.
Count 6: Extortion (real-estate scheme) Silver used the influence of his Assembly Speaker position to force a real-estate development company into giving his friend’s law firm its tax business. Carries a possible sentence of 20 years.
Count 7: Money Laundering- Silver tried to hide his illegal income by transferring money between different accounts in order to avoid disclosure. Carries a possible sentence of 10 years.
Following his arrest last January, Albany has faced a crisis of conscience on whether and how to respond to the conviction of someone who dominated state politics as long as most legislators or anyone in New York’s political orbit can remember, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
Silver’s conviction on corruption charges signals that dramatic changes need to be made in Albany along with significant legal reforms on how legislators conduct daily personal and professional business.
Senator Liz Krueger, a Democrat from Manhattan said that the Silver verdict and also the corruption charges that Senator Dean Skelos is on trial for “have to be seen as an indictment of how the Legislature has been doing business.”
Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky who at one time served as federal prosecutor said: “The bell could not be ringing louder for real reform in Albany. The Silver case highlighted in stark detail the gaps in our law and the agenda we must now undertake.”
Throughout the trial, damning evidence against Silver (who was considered one of New York State’s most influential political king makers) surfaced and revealed that the former speaker of the New York State Assembly made millions through fraudulence and corrupt tactics.
Prior to listening to the sentencing proclamation, Silver threw himself at the mercy of the court and admitted to the presiding judge that, “Without question, I let down my constituents, I let down my family, let down my colleagues, and I’m truly, truly sorry for that.”
The judge acknowledged that Silver had been an outstanding public servant and a generous friend and colleague. “I have to agree with the defense that the letters (in support of Silver) clearly … paint a picture of a gifted politician who went above and beyond call of duty many times for friends, friends of friends and for constituents.”
Justifying the steep sentence, Judge Valerie Caproni said that, “Silver’s corrupt actions cast a shadow over everything he has done and has thrown into doubt any difficult decision any legislator has made.
Did Silver do things just to be nice — or did he do things because somewhere there was something in it for him?”
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office has urged Judge Caproni to make an example of Silver, casting him as a chief architect of corruption in Albany and had called for at least 14 years in prison — the highest federal prison term ever for a New York legislator, according to Newsday.
“Silver’s crimes corrupted the institution that he led for more than 20 years,” prosecutors said in a filing with the judge last month. “As a fixture in the legislative leadership, an entire generation of New York legislators served in an institution framed by his corrupt example. His crimes struck at the core of democratic governance.”
The New York Post reported that the federal prosecutors dismissed Silver’s earlier apology letter to the court.
“Instead of accusing the government of trying to harm him and his reputation by quote ‘choosing to focus its spotlight on him,’ he could’ve admitted he himself is to blame for the investigation and the conviction and the prosecution that revealed the truth and resulted in his downfall,” said Assistant US Attorney Howard Master.
The New York Post reported that in presenting an argument for a fairly light sentence, Silver lawyer Steven Cohen told Caproni, “If there’s going to be an incarceration, what is really needed to serve the purpose here? What is the benefit that is truly rendered to society?”
Another Silver attorney Joel Cohen, added, “Whatever leniency we have from you, your honor, he has already been crushed. He has been devastated by everything.
“His obituary has already been written about … notwithstanding everything he has done.”
Silver’s sentencing submission included dozens of letters of support from such luminaries as former New York City Mayor David Dinkins. It said Silver has arranged with the Fortune Society, a group that aids convicts with re-entry programs, to work as an employment services counselor if Caproni would order community service, according to a Newsday report.
Silver’s lawyers had cited health concerns for their client and asked that the judge take this into consideration when crafting a sentencing structure.
Silver currently has prostate cancer but it is in remission. Both his father and brother did from the widespread illness.
A day after being convicted in November Silver immediately filed his retirement papers as was reported by the New York Post.
According to sources in Silver’s case, he was to receive a $100,000 a year in public pension money. Public pensions are constitutionally protected assets that cannot be seized, regardless of what the pensioners former actions.
According to New York Post, “Governor Cuomo, who has been vowing to clean up Albany since before he took office, has tried to change that. In 2011, he got the Legislature to OK pension forfeiture by law-breaking officials who began their careers after the bill took effect. Yet New York’s Constitution would have to be amended to impose the same kind of penalty on those who took office before then.”
Consequently, the state Senate passed a bill this year calling for just such an amendment, which was blocked by Sheldon Silver’s former Assembly colleagues. Supposedly, they claimed “the bill was too broad, and that it could potentially hit not just elected officials and high-ranking staffers, but also ordinary ‘janitors.’” However, since the Assembly failed to act this year, the constitutional amendment is currently dead, which means “longer-serving lawmakers needn’t fear losing their pensions even if they’re found guilty of a crime,” as was reported by the New York Post.