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Silver deserves a long stretch in prison for criminally exploiting his office

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara wants to send Sheldon Silver to prison for more than 14 years as penance for the crimes he committed as speaker of the New York State Assembly.

Bharara makes an irrefutable case. U.S. District Judge Valerie E. Caproni should throw the book at Silver.

Silver enriched himself by using his authority to engage in bribe-taking, extortion and money-laundering. What is more, prosecutors recently alleged that he also used his position to help two women with whom he was having clandestine extramarital affairs.

“Silver’s crimes corrupted the institution that he led for more than 20 years,” Bharara wrote in legal papers filed last week. “As a fixture in the legislative leadership, an entire generation of New York legislators served in an institution framed by his corrupt example.”

It’s indisputable, and it should come at a heavy price.

Bharara’s argument is that, as the longtime leader of the Assembly, Silver should draw a longer sentence than any other state lawmaker convicted of corruption. That would mean a lengthier prison term than the one meted out to former Assemblyman William F. Boyland Jr., convicted of bribery and sentenced to 14 years behind bars.

The logic is sound. In fact, given Silver’s leadership role, his determined resistance to ethics reform and his hostility to members who challenged his now-discredited rule, a proportionately fair sentence would go far beyond 14 years.

Bharara cited the “immeasurable harm he has caused to the public trust and the need to deter other public officials who might consider abusing their power for personal gain.”

A lengthy stretch in prison would be just deserts.

Silver’s sentencing is scheduled for May 3. Predictably, he claims now to see the error of his corrupt ways. It’s amazing how the scales fall from someone’s eyes when the threat is prison time rather than the chance to corruptly wheedle millions of dollars out of a public office.

“What I have done has hurt the Assembly, and New York, and my constituents terribly, and I regret that more than I can possibly express.”

No doubt he does – now.

His lawyers dutifully pleaded with the court to consider all the good things Silver has done for the public and asked that the court “consider allowing Mr. Silver to continue to employ his unique talents to benefit others. A sentence that incorporates extensive community service and little – if any – incarceration could do that.”

But that’s far too little and way too late. Even taking Silver at his word and swallowing the bunkum that he really, really regrets bilking New Yorkers to enrich himself, he still owes a public debt, and it’s not one that can be paid by delivering Meals on Wheels. It’s penitentiary time.

Silver is a crook. He abused his constituents and all New Yorkers by trading on his office to make himself wealthy. And all he had to do to avoid this crisis in his life was not break the law. It’s not hard. Just be honest.

He couldn’t do it. He rose to the heights of state government and treated his public office like a private ATM. For that, 14 years would be cheap.