Former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), one of the most powerful men in Albany over the last two decades, was found guilty of all seven counts against him at his corruption trial in Manhattan on Monday.
Silver, 71, resigned as speaker after surrendering to federal authorities in January but he remained in Albany representing Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Now, under state law, he will also lose his Assembly seat. Silver faces up to 130 years in prison when sentenced.
The month-long trial centered around $4 million in illicit profits Silver collected—a sizable income the former speaker failed to report in his annual state disclosure forms. Federal prosecutors said Silver used his powerful position to “secretly direct” a half-million dollars in state funds to a doctor researching mesothelioma. In exchange, the doctor referred asbestos cases to the law firm Weitz & Luxenberg, where Silver worked as a private attorney, prosecutors said.
In a separate scheme, Silver, who became speaker in 1994, used his power to convince two real estate developers conducting business with the state to retain a real estate law firm controlled by Silver’s ex-counsel in Albany. State lawmakers are not prohibited from earning outside income but they are required to report such earnings in annual disclosure forms.
“Today, Sheldon Silver got justice, and at long last, so did the people of New York,” said Preet Bharara, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, in a statement.
The case against Silver comes as Bharara is single-handedly trying to weed out corruption in the state’s capital. Silver’s former counterpart, ex-state Sen. Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), is in the midst of his own corruption trial, which is taking place in the same federal courthouse in downtown Manhattan where Silver was convicted.
“Politicians are supposed to be on the people’s payroll, not on secret retainers for wealthy special interests they do favors for,” Bharara said during a news conference on the January day when Silver surrendered to the FBI. “These charges, in our view, go to the very core of what ails Albany: Lack of transparency, lack of accountability and lack of principle joined with an overabundance of greed, cronyism and self-dealing.”
Bharara, during the very same press conference, sent a now-infamous warning shot—“stay tuned,” he teased—to other lawmakers potentially scheming the system. Five months later, Skelos and his son Adam were both arrested for allegedly manipulating legislation to pad his son’s pockets. Skelos’ trial resumed Monday following a break for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Silver, Skelos, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo were once part of an exclusive group dubbed “the three men in the room,” which maintained a stranglehold on New York State politics. Silver ruled the Democratic-dominated Assembly, while Skelos controlled the state senate, where his party has the edge. Cuomo, a Democrat, split the difference.
The arrests of Silver and Skelos sent a shock wave through the system.
Most likely, Silver’s conviction will have no bearing on Skelos’ trial, but it does signal a clear victory for Bharara, whom many observers believe staked his reputation on his crusade against Albany’s culture of corruption.
Silver told reporters as he left the courthouse that he was “disappointed” in the verdict, which his attorneys are expected to appeal.