National News

Ex-Assembly Speaker Is Convicted in 2nd Corruption Trial

Posted May 11, 2018 9:54 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.

The guilty verdict was another turn in the extended epilogue of Silver’s long career, which included decades holding sway over nearly every major aspect of New York politics, and an uncanny ability to dodge attacks from competitors, investigators and, until recently, prosecutors.

Silver was convicted in 2015 on charges related to nearly $4 million he obtained in illicit payments in return for taking actions that benefited a cancer researcher at Columbia University and two real estate developers in New York.

The case was among a number of political corruption cases that were overturned after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016 narrowed the activity that could constitute corruption. In a ruling that reversed the conviction of Bob McDonnell, a former Republican governor of Virginia, the court found that such activity must involve concrete and formal government decisions or actions, and not mere political courtesies like setting up a meeting.

Silver’s retrial was widely watched as a test of the government’s ability to prosecute official corruption under the narrower definition. But from the outset, prosecutors this time seemed to hold an upper hand: The original verdict was thrown out only because the judge’s jury instructions were too broad, as defined by the Supreme Court decision.

The retrial in U.S. District Court for the Southern District in Manhattan seemed to move at double speed: Instead of stretching over one month, as the first trial had, the second trial was completed in two weeks, as prosecutors quickly made their case that Silver, 74, had obtained the illicit payments. In return, prosecutors said, Silver took a series of official actions that benefited a cancer researcher at Columbia University and two real estate developers in New York.

“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.

Silver sat impassively as the jury forewoman announced the verdict, which came at the end of the first full day of deliberations. His lawyer, Michael S. Feldberg, said he planned to appeal, citing “multiple legal issues.”

Sentencing is set for July 13; in the first trial, Judge Valerie E. Caproni imposed a 12-year sentence.

Silver spent more than two decades as the 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 separate corruption trials. But both men’s convictions were overturned last year.

Skelos is to be retried in June. That same month, another Albany-related corruption trial will begin, against Alain E. Kaloyeros, former president of the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute. That case involves bid-rigging allegations in Cuomo’s signature upstate economic development plan, the Buffalo Billion.

The following month, the government will retry Norman Seabrook, former head of the New York City correction officers’ union, whose corruption case ended in a mistrial in November after the jury was unable to reach a verdict.

In reflecting on Silver’s conviction, Geoffrey S. Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, cited the “importance of pursuing cases against corrupt politicians, no matter the difficulty.”

Silver had taken an oath to act in the best interests of the people of New York state, Berman said, adding, “As a unanimous jury found, he sold his public office for private greed.”

Cuomo, in a statement, said, “The justice system shows no one is above the law.”

As in Silver’s first trial, the prosecutors — a new team of Martins, Daniel C. Richenthal and Damian Williams — presented evidence that he had arranged to have the state Health Department award two grants totaling $500,000 to 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 Silver supported real estate legislation that benefited the developers.

Feldberg, Silver’s lawyer, had argued in his summation that Silver’s actions were legal, contending that there was “not one whit of evidence of quid pro quo, not a shred of evidence of bribery.”

On Friday, Silver was again convicted of all seven counts: 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.

As jurors left the courthouse, one, Marvin Carson, told several reporters how the jury worked carefully as they went through each of the seven charges.

“There was always somebody who wasn’t ready to agree,” Carson said. “And we wanted every detail checked off.”

He described the deliberations as “emotional,” a process that left several jurors in tears, and him longing for a whiskey.

Silver, as he exited the courthouse, still expressed optimism at his chances of a successful appeal. “I’m very confident the judicial process will play out in my favor,” he said. “Obviously, I’m disappointed at this point,” Silver added, “but, you know ——”

Feldberg interjected, “It’s a long battle.”

With his hat in hand, Silver then walked down the block. He took his MetroCard from his wallet and descended the stairs into the Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall subway station, only to re-emerge a few moments later.

“Maybe I’m walking,” he said.

He climbed in a taxi, which drove him away.