Ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver Handed 7-Year Sentence for Corruption

Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver listens to U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni during his sentence hearing. U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman (seated behind Silver at right) attended the hearing. Court drawing by Elizabeth Williams 

Jul. 27, 2018

Condemning the “unmitigated greed” and corrupt use of his powerful office, a federal judge handed former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver a seven-year prison term on Friday. The sentencing follows a jury verdict in May that found him guilty of fraud, extortion and money laundering.

U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni ordered the 74-year-old Silver, who sat slumped and emotionless at the defense table, to surrender to authorities on Oct. 5. She also required him to give up nearly $4 million in illicit gains and pay a $1.75 million fine.

“Silver wanted to be seen as the man of the people,” the judge said, “while he was using his office to line his pockets.”

The sentence is five years shorter than the one Caproni ordered after Silver’s first conviction in 2015. That verdict was overturned following a Supreme Court decision that narrowed the definition of corruption. He was found guilty again after being retried in May.

Caproni said she reconsidered the length of the first, 12-year sentence after reading many letters from people who requested leniency for the former speaker.

“I was struck by the breadth of support” for Silver, she said, adding that she also had to consider his “good works” and age and health. While calling him a “healthy 74-year-old,” she added that “visually he has aged more than the three years” since his last trial.

In addressing the judge, Silver said the last three years “have been enormously difficult for me,” and acknowledged that his actions had “brought a great distrust into New York State government. I am extremely remorseful for that.”

“I fear I will continue to be ridiculed by the shame that is upon me,” he added.

Writing to Caproni earlier this month, Silver begged for mercy “so that I can go out into the world again to atone to everyone I have hurt.”

“I pray I will not die in prison,” he wrote.

Silver’s lawyer, Michael Feldberg, asked the judge to render some prison time followed by “rigorous” public service that would include writing to legislators and talking to students about official misconduct, as well as helping people navigate the bureaucracy.

“The disgrace will never go away,” Feldberg said. “Other than his family he has lost almost everything.”

But Caproni said public service would not be appropriate for Silver, who had pleaded innocent to the charges and insisted that he did nothing criminal. Instead, she said, “he is going to spend most of his remaining years in the penitentiary.”

Silver began representing the Lower East Side and large swaths of Lower Manhattan in 1977 and for more than 20 years was one of the three most powerful men in state government, the so-called “three men in a room.”Along with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, that trio included former senate leader Dean Skelos, who was convicted this month on corruption charges.

“This has to stop,” Caproni said of the shady dealings in Albany.

Silver was first convicted in 2015 on all seven charges of fraud, extortion and money laundering. Prosecutors said he took in nearly $4 million in legal fees in exchange for official favors. Two secret schemes involved kickbacks from law firms in exchange for official favors.

In one, he directed $500,000 in state grant money to a Columbia University cancer researcher in return for referring patients to his personal injury law firm, Weitz and Luxemberg, who kicked back more than $5 million to Silver. In another scheme, Silver collected $700,000 for steering a powerful developer, seeking the speaker’s influence, to a firm specializing in tax law.

Caproni said she is recommending that Silver do his time at the Otisville Camp, a minimum security correctional facility in Orange County that serves the needs of Orthodox Jewish inmates.