It could have been a lot harsher and there is a good argument to be made that it should have been. Nevertheless, with former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver sentenced to 12 years in prison, plus fines and forfeitures, it’s hard for anyone to suggest that he got off easy. He corrupted his high office and profited on the backs of taxpayers. Now, he is going to pay the cost.
Probably, he thought he would never be caught. He may even have thought, as his lawyers preposterously argued, that he was merely conducting business as the fathers of New York government had intended. Bribery, extortion and money laundering are, in that view, proof of patriotism.
Silver is 72 and, taking account of his age, U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni sentenced him to less time than she could have. The penalty was, in that regard, both merciful and just. With New York State government drowning in an ocean of corruption, there was no way for the head of one of two chambers of the State Legislature to avoid a lengthy prison sentence, let alone for him to be sentenced to home confinement as his lawyers also laughably suggested. Silver must surrender on July 1.
This was no penny-ante crook. In addition to the prison term, he was ordered to forfeit $5.2 million from proceeds from his crimes and was fined an additional $1.75 million. The man entrusted with the leadership of the people’s house in Albany gorged himself at the trough without regard to ethics or the law or the people he represented.
The sentence could easily have been longer. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office prosecuted Silver, had persuasively argued that the former speaker’s position and crimes deserved a sentence longer than any other meted out in an official corruption case in New York. That would have netted Silver an additional two-plus years to top the 14-year prison term meted out to former Assemblyman William F. Boyland Jr., who was convicted of bribery.
Still, the sentence sends a clear message about the price of corruption, at least for those who are caught. Another message should be sent later this month when former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos is sentenced for using the power of his office to steer money to his son Adam, who benefited from what were virtually no-show jobs. Executives of the companies involved testified that they went along with the scam for fear of alienating the powerful head of the Senate.
A new poll shows that 93 percent of New Yorkers believe corruption in Albany is a serious problem. With Silver heading to prison, Skelos likely on his way and continuing investigations into Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion economic development program, Albany needs to get deadly serious about ethics reform. It should be done now.