Shel Shock! Silver’s conviction overturned

File photo by Jefferson Siegel
Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver had his corruption conviction overturned on July 13, though prosecutors vow to try him again.


Call it a Silver lining?

A federal appeals court overturned former Assemblyman Shelly Silver’s conviction for a corruption scheme that netted the one-time power broker nearly $4 million in kickbacks.

The decision handed down on July 13 vacates the 12-years imprisonment Sheldon’s faced since his sentencing last year, but Lower Manhattan’s once-powerful voice in Albany isn’t out of the woods yet, and the acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York has vowed to drag Shelly back into court.

“Although it will be delayed, we do not expect justice to be denied,” said acting US Attorney Joon Kim in a prepared statement.

Sheldon owes his exoneration to a Supreme Court ruling last year regarding corruption allegations facing former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, which narrowed the legal definition of what’s considered an “official act.”

In its decision regarding Silver’s case, the appeals court ruled that the definition of the term provided to the jurors differed from the Supreme Court’s, and that the jury might have ruled differently if given the new definition.

“We hold that the District Court’s instructions on honest services fraud and extortion do not comport with McDonnell and are therefore in error,” the decision read. “We further hold that this error was not harmless because it is not clear beyond a reasonable doubt that a rational jury would have reached the same conclusion if properly instructed.”

The court’s decision to reverse Silver’s conviction was not, however, based on lack of evidence, a fact Kim noted in his statement.

”The Second Circuit also held that the evidence presented at the trial was sufficient to prove all the crimes charged against Silver, even under the new legal standard,” the prosecutor said.

Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, who succeeded Silver in Assembly, said her predecessor used his influence as Assembly Speaker to line his own pockets, and the appeals court’s decision doesn’t change that.

“My district has suffered tremendously from this betrayal, and my constituents and the organizations who trusted him to represent them still feel it every day,” Niou said.

But if Silver’s corruption was a betrayal to his constituents Downtown, it’s because it robbed Lower Manhattan of representation from one of the most powerful politicians in the state, and left a freshman lawmaker responsible for the area’s interests, according to Community Board 1 member Tom Goodkind.

“Shelly’s corruption conviction has been overturned and he’s clear, but where does that leave us Downtown?” said Goodkind. “We’ve got a freshman assemblyperson who’s starting from scratch, as opposed to the Speaker of the Assembly!”

To Goodkind, Silver was a victim of former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s political ambition, and the appeals court’s decision is a vindication of Lower Manhattan’s one-time champion.

“It was a purely a political move and what happens now is Shelly is free and clear to go,” Goodkind said. “He’s been admonished — the conviction was overturned.”

To others, however, Sheldon’s legacy is more complicated, and while his contributions to the area shouldn’t be ignored, they will nonetheless be colored by corruption allegations that the appeals court’s decision is unlikely to erase, according to Community Board 1 Chairman Anthony Notaro.

“He was a powerful politician who delivered for his constituents, but now there’s this veil of corruption and his fall from grace,” said Notaro. “He’s somebody who could have left a strong legacy, but we’ll always have a doubt.”

Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said that his office plans to retry Silver.

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