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Corruption will cost former Assembly speaker 12 years in prison, nearly $7 million

Sheldon Silver, the definition of Albany power spanning two decades, this afternoon was sentenced to 12 years in prison for tapping into his extraordinary influence over state government to personally enrich himself.

He also was ordered to forfeit $5,179,106.12 from proceeds from his crimes, according to tweets from Newsday in the courtroom, and was fined an additional $1.75 million.

Silver, 72, will surrender July 1.

“I’ve let down my constituents, family and colleagues,” Silver said before his sentencing, according to tweets from the New York Times, “and I’m truly, truly sorry for that.”

U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni seemed to agree, saying: “The letters clearly and persuasively paint a picture of a talented politician who went above and beyond the call of duty.”


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U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said on Twitter just after the sentencing: “Today’s stiff sentence is a just and fitting end to Sheldon Silver’s long career of corruption.”

In urging a significant sentence, one of the federal prosecutors, according to media accounts, summed up Silver’s actions: “Just pure greed.’’

Silver’s defense attorney asked for community service and house arrest for the seven-count corruption conviction.

“He won’t weather this storm. Whatever leniency your honor will seek to give him. ... He is already crushed. He has been devastated,” his defense attorney said.

Under federal guidelines, the sentence could have been between 21 and 27 years, but the judge said she would not follow the guidelines, according to Newsday tweets.

“I am not going to impose a guidelines sentence in this case,” Caproni said, adding it would be “draconian and unjust” given Silver’s age.

In the ever-surreal world of Albany, Silver’s former colleagues in the Assembly, at the same moment Silver was seated in a courtroom awaiting his sentencing, officially seated his replacement, Alice Cancel. On April 19, Cancel won a special election victory to represent the lower Manhattan district Silver was first elected to represent in 1976.

It will be a busy month for the district court. Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican, is set to be sentenced May 12 in his own separate corruption case.

The sentencing comes as a new poll out this morning finds 93 percent of New Yorkers believe corruption in Albany is a serious problem. And the poll by Siena College was conducted before the issuance of a subpoena to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office as part of a widening probe that began last year of the Buffalo Billion program.

Bharara, who prosecuted both Silver and Skelos, last month asked the judge to impose “significant” prison time for the former Assembly leader. He said Silver’s crimes, which personally enriched Silver, are worth at least 14 years in prison and that he should be required to give up nearly $5.2 million in his “crime proceeds.”

“Silver’s crimes corrupted the institution that he led for more than 20 years,” Bharara wrote in a pre-sentencing court filing last month. Papers filed by Bharara also were unsealed last month in which prosecutors accused Silver of having two extramarital affairs, one with a lobbyist with business before the Assembly and another who used his influence to get a state job.

Silver’s attorneys put on their own pre-sentencing front, including in their own court filing with the judge a personal appeal from Silver.

“I failed the people of New York,” Silver said in a letter penned to the judge.

Lawyers submitted letters in support of Silver from constituents, former New York City Mayor David Dinkins and at least two union leaders. Silver’s lawyers sought to highlight the former speaker’s contributions to New York, and they made a medical appeal: They said Silver has prostate cancer.

Silver’s conviction cost him his Assembly seat, which includes the lower east side of Manhattan, as well as his bar license.

Silver was convicted by a jury last November on all seven counts against him, including honest services fraud and money laundering on charges he used his state position to make millions in law firm income by taking advantage of his power role in state government, including providing state contracts to a cancer researcher who then steered patients to a law firm connected to Silver.

Silver was elected to the Assembly in 1976, and he became Speaker in 1994. He was the Assembly Democrats’ negotiator with the Senate and governors on more than $2 trillion worth of state budget spending, and he controlled everything from the shape of Assembly district boundaries to how much money went to school districts across the state to criminal justice policy matters.

The Siena poll released this morning found that 97 percent of New Yorkers believe it is important that Albany’s corruption problems be the top concern for Cuomo and lawmakers before this year’s legislative session ends next month.

Fifty-six percent of respondents in the poll said they support banning outside income of lawmakers and making the Legislature a full-time body. They also have little tolerance for giving lawmakers a raise if the Legislature goes to full-time status; 56 percent said their current base salary should remain at $79,500, where it has been since 1999.

“Corruption even beats out education, affordable housing and combatting the heroin epidemic as the single most important issue,” said Steve Greenberg, the Siena poll’s spokesman.