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Sheldon Silver guilty on all counts in corruption retrial

The ex-Assembly speaker was found guilty on charges of honest services mail and wire fraud, extortion under color of official right and money laundering.

Former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver

Former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver arrives at a federal courthouse in lower Manhattan Thursday. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Jurors on Friday convicted former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on corruption charges in Manhattan federal court.

Silver was convicted on all seven counts of scheming to get legal referral fees through an asbestos doctor and two real estate companies in return for legislative favors.

Silver was convicted of the same charges in 2015, and sentenced to 12 years in prison before the conviction was reversed. His new sentencing was set for July 13.

There was no visible reaction from Silver at the verdict was read.

“Obviously, I’m disappointed at this point,” Silver said as he exited Manhattan federal court. “I’m confident that the judicial process will play out in my favor.”

Silver’s lead attorney, Michael S. Feldberg, said the legislator would appeal the verdict. “We are confident that at the end of this long battle we will prevail.”

The jury began deliberations on Thursday after hearing testimony from 26 witnesses for the prosecution and cross examination of them by Silver’s attorneys. Silver chose not to testify.

The prosecution has alleged that Silver used his position as an Albany powerbroker over about a decade to extort nearly $4 million in bribes in return for directing state actions to benefit a cancer doctor and two real estate developers. Silver then allegedly invested the money, reaping an additional $1 million.

Silver, 74, was charged with seven counts of honest services mail fraud, honest services wire fraud, extortion under color of official right and money laundering.

He denied wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty to all the charges. His retrial began April 30 in Manhattan federal court.

Three years ago, in his first trial, Silver was convicted on seven counts. In 2016, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison, fined $1.75 million and ordered to forfeit more than $5 million in ill-gotten gains.

Silver has remained out on bail ever since.

The prosecution has alleged that Silver orchestrated two quid pro quo schemes.

The first involves cancer patients being referred by the legislator to the Weitz & Luxenberg personal injury law firm.

Manhattan-based Weitz & Luxenberg paid

Silver more than $3 million in referral fees from legal settlements and verdicts won on behalf of 48 patients suffering from mesothelioma, a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, according to the federal indictment.

Silver received names and contact information for people diagnosed with mesothelioma from Dr. Robert Taub, a then-Columbia University physician. Taub in turn received $500,000 in state research grants allegedly at Silver’s direction.

Silver also helped Taub’s son and daughter secure jobs and steered a state grant to a charity started by Taub’s wife, the indictment states.

Silver was “of counsel” to Weitz & Luxenberg, earning a salary of $120,000 per year, but did little work there, according to the prosecution.

The second alleged quid pro quo scheme involves Silver improperly receiving $700,000 in referral fees from a tax law firm, Goldberg & Iryami in Manhattan, for steering cases to the firm from two developers, who were seeking Silver’s support for legislation before the Assembly, the indictment states.

The developers wanted Silver — who was Assembly speaker for nearly 21 years — to extend a state law giving tax breaks to developers of apartment buildings that include affordable units alongside luxury units. They also wanted to limit any expansion of rent control in New York City, according to the indictment.

Silver resigned as Assembly speaker in early 2015 after being indicted and then lost his Weitz & Luxenberg job.

The retrial has been largely a repeat of Silver’s corruption trial and conviction in 2015. The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted Silver’s appeal request in 2017 but said there were grounds for another trial.

The appeals court said U.S. District Judge Valerie E. Caproni’s instructions to jurors in 2015 did not comply with a later U.S. Supreme Court decision that narrowed the acts required to convict public officials in a quid pro quo bribery scheme to formal exercises of government power, not just meetings or telephone calls.

On Thursday, Caproni told jurors that Silver’s actions had to involve “more than setting up a meeting, expressing support for an idea or consulting with a lobbyist or official...He had to take an official action or cause an official action to take place.”

The U.S. Supreme Court decision, delivered in 2016, involved a former Virginia governor and was the basis of a successful appeal of former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos’ corruption conviction.

Skelos’ retrial will start next month in the same Manhattan courthouse.

The Silver retrial is the second of four corruption trials involving state government to take place this year.

Besides the Skelos trial, one-time SUNY physicist and nanotechnology kingpin Alain Kaloyeros will face jurors in June. Long-time Cuomo aide Joseph Percoco was convicted in May of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and solicitation of more than $300,000.

As word of the verdict spread, reaction came from several parts of the state.

“Given the mountain of evidence it’s no surprise,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “What is surprising is how little the governor and state lawmakers have done to respond to Albany’s corruption crisis.”

“Justice was served on behalf of taxpayers, but this latest conviction must also be met with action in Albany,” said Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), a former federal prosecutor. “If we are going to protect our democracy and restore the trust of New Yorkers, we must fight for good government in Albany, not just the courts.”

With Michael Gormley

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