National News

Ex-Assembly Speaker Is Convicted in 2nd Corruption Trial

Posted May 11, 2018 5:45 p.m. EDT

NEW YORK — Sheldon Silver, the former powerful Democratic speaker of the New York state Assembly, was found guilty of federal corruption charges Friday, less than a year after his first conviction on the same charges was thrown out.

During his two-week trial in Manhattan, prosecutors showed that Silver, 74, had obtained nearly $4 million in illicit payments in return for taking a series of official actions that benefited a cancer researcher at Columbia University and two real estate developers in New York.

Silver served more than two decades as Assembly speaker, and along with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Dean G. Skelos, the former Republican state Senate majority leader, became known as one of New York’s “three men in a room” who controlled decision making in Albany.

Both Silver and Skelos forfeited their seats in late 2015 after each was convicted in a separate corruption trial. But both men’s convictions were overturned last year after the U.S. Supreme Court, in a ruling that reversed the conviction of Bob McDonnell, a former Republican governor of Virginia, narrowed the kind of quid-pro-quo actions that could constitute corruption.

Silver’s retrial was widely watched as a test of the government’s ability to prosecute official corruption under the narrower definition.

“Sheldon Silver repeatedly used his enormous public power for his own enormous private gain,” a prosecutor, Tatiana R. Martins, told the jury in a closing statement Thursday.

After his first trial, the judge, Valerie E. Caproni of U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, imposed a 12-year sentence on Silver, but he remained free pending his appeal and second trial. He must now be resentenced. Skelos is to be retried in June.

As in Silver’s first trial, prosecutors presented evidence that he had arranged to have the state Health Department award two grants totaling $500,000 to cancer researcher Robert N. Taub, who ran a clinic dedicated to mesothelioma research.

In return, Taub, over about a decade, referred nearly 50 cancer patients with legal claims to the law firm Weitz & Luxenberg, which gave Silver a portion of its fees.

Taub, testifying last week, recalled that a mutual friend had told him that “Shelly wants cases.”

“Silver knew that Dr. Taub was sitting on something worth a lot of money, an active medical practice full of mesothelioma patients with valuable legal claims,” Martins told the jury Thursday.

In the second scheme, prosecutors showed Silver had the two developers, Glenwood Management and the Witkoff Group, move certain tax business to a law firm, Goldberg & Iryami, which also kicked back to Silver a portion of its fees.

In return, the government alleged that Silver supported real estate legislation that benefited the developers.

Silver’s lawyer, Michael S. Feldberg, had argued in his summation that Silver’s actions were legal.

“There is not one whit of evidence of quid pro quo, not a shred of evidence of bribery,” Feldberg said.

On Friday, Silver was again convicted of all seven counts, which included two counts of honest services fraud and one of extortion under color of official right for each of the cancer and real estate schemes, and a count of money laundering.