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What Sentence Should Sheldon Silver Get? His Lawyers Get Creative

Can a criminal be sentenced to run a “help desk”?

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Benjamin Weiser
, New York Times

Can a criminal be sentenced to run a “help desk”?

Sheldon Silver, the former powerful speaker of the New York state Assembly who was convicted of public corruption charges in May, hopes so.

Silver, 74, is to be sentenced on July 27 in Manhattan, and federal prosecutors asked the judge on Friday to impose a sentence “substantially in excess” of 10 years.

But Silver’s lawyers had a more creative proposal for how he could pay his debt to society.

After a “meaningful custodial sentence,” they suggested, he should be ordered to perform “rigorous” community service, like running a special help desk.

In that role, they said, he would be helping 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.”

He would be expressing his remorse, they said, and using “his unique skills to assist his fellow New Yorkers.”

Indeed, obtaining benefits for himself and others is something Silver has shown a talent for.

Evidence at the trial showed Silver obtained nearly $4 million in illicit payments in exchange for taking actions that helped a prominent cancer researcher at Columbia University and two real estate developers.

Silver arranged, for example, for the State Health Department to award two grants totaling $500,000 to the researcher, Robert N. Taub. In return, Taub referred cancer patients with legal claims to the law firm Weitz & Luxenberg, which gave Silver a portion of its fees.

Silver, a Democrat, was originally convicted in 2015 and sentenced to 12 years by the judge, Valerie E. Caproni of U.S. District Court. After his conviction was overturned on appeal, he was retried this year and found guilty.

“Mr. Silver is a broken man,” his lawyers wrote. “He has been humiliated and disgraced. Most of his assets are gone, either to forfeiture or fine.”

But he “is also an intelligent man, with virtually unparalleled knowledge of New York state government,” they noted. Their proposal would allow the judge to exercise discretion “in a way that punishes Mr. Silver, but takes advantage of his unique talents and still affords the possibility of his living the end of his life in freedom.”

Silver, in a one-page letter to the judge, said the work that had been “the focus of most of my life has become dirty and shameful. Everything I ever accomplished has become a joke and a spectacle.”

He worried about his wife, and his grandchildren, he said, “and how they will be treated because of me.” He also was concerned about his own age and health, adding, “I pray I will not die in prison.”

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