By Benjamin Weiser
NEW YORK – Sheldon Silver, the former speaker of the state Assembly who rose to become one of New York’s most powerful politicians, was sentenced to seven years in prison Friday for his conviction on federal corruption charges.
Silver, a Democrat from Manhattan’s Lower East Side, had served as speaker for more than two decades, and influenced nearly every major aspect of state politics.
He was convicted in May after an earlier conviction was overturned on appeal.
Along with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Dean Skelos, the former Republican state Senate majority leader, Silver became known as one of the “three men in a room” who controlled decision making in Albany. He also demonstrated a remarkable ability to fend off incursions from political rivals and investigators, inevitably emerging unbowed.
But last week, writing to the judge, he portrayed himself as a broken man.
“Everything I ever accomplished has become a joke and a spectacle,” Silver, 74, wrote, adding, “I pray I will not die in prison.”
Silver, after his first conviction, received a 12-year sentence, but the judge, Valerie Caproni, allowed him to remain free on bail while he appealed. A year ago, a federal appeals panel overturned that conviction, citing a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision that narrowed the legal definition of corruption.
But the appeals court indicated that there was sufficient evidence to convict Silver – the flaw had been in the jury instructions – and he was quickly convicted in a two-week retrial.
At the retrial, prosecutors again showed that Silver had obtained nearly $4 million in illicit payments in return for taking official actions on behalf a cancer researcher at Columbia University and two real estate developers.
Silver, one of four former state officials convicted this year in what has emerged as a season for corruption trials, is the first of that group to be sentenced.
This month alone, separate juries have convicted Skelos, the former Senate majority leader who was retried on bribery and extortion charges after his 2015 conviction was overturned; and Alain Kaloyeros, the principal architect of Cuomo’s signature economic development project to revitalize upstate and western New York. He was convicted in a bid-rigging scheme.
And in March, Joseph Percoco, a former top adviser to Cuomo, was found guilty of taking more than $300,000 in bribes from executives of two companies with state business. Cuomo has not been accused of any wrongdoing, but his political rivals have seized on the string of cases as evidence of a corrupt culture in Albany that they say the governor has enabled.
The office of Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, last week asked Caproni to impose on Silver a sentence “substantially in excess” of 10 years.
Silver’s lawyers, in their own brief, conceded that he should receive a “meaningful custodial sentence,” but they also proposed he then perform “rigorous” community service, like running a special help desk to assist New Yorkers “navigate their way through the state bureaucracy to answer their questions and maximize their chances of receiving benefits to which they may be entitled.”
In the first scheme, Silver arranged for the State Health Department to award grants totaling $500,000 to the researcher, Dr. Robert Taub, in return for his referring cancer patients with potentially lucrative legal claims to a law firm, Weitz & Luxenberg, which kicked back part of its fees to Silver.
In the other scheme, Silver arranged for the two developers, Glenwood Management and the Witkoff Group, to send tax business to the law firm Goldberg & Iryami, which gave Silver a portion of its fees.