Former NY Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver Found Guilty On All Counts In Corruption Trial
Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was found guilty of bribery and extortion on Monday in a federal corruption trial. Silver, a Democrat who served as assembly speaker for 21 years, was arrested in January for accepting millions in bribes since 2002. The jury found Silver guilty of all seven counts of honest services fraud, extortion, and money laundering five weeks into his trial in a Manhattan Federal District Court. "Today, Sheldon Silver got justice, and at long last, so did the people of New York," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.
At the trial, the government unveiled evidence that the 71-year-old politician accepted almost $4 million in illegal payments in exchange for taking actions to benefit Dr. Robert N. Taub, a cancer researcher at Columbia University, and two real estate development firms. The evidence showed that Silver set up Dr. Taub to receive two grants totaling $500,000 from the New York State Health Department for his research on mesothelioma, a cancer related to asbestos exposure, and helped Dr. Taub's children get a job and an internship. In the closing arguments last week, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Goldstein explained that Dr. Taub recommended his cancer patients to the Weitz & Luxenberg law firm, which gave Silver more than $3 million in referral fees from their personal injury claims.
In the real estate development scheme, Silver had Glenwood Management and the Witkoff Group use the Goldberg & Iryami law firm for certain tax cases, and the firm then secretly shared $700,000 in fees with Silver. The ex-speaker met with lobbyists and supported rent legislation backed by the developers in return for the money.
"Why did Sheldon Silver do it? He did it for the money," Goldstein told the jury throughout the trial. He also said that the evidence "shows that Sheldon Silver was a master of every form of deception — lying, keeping secrets, even splitting hairs."
Silver's defense attorneys argued that the legal fees were legitimate income, citing testimonies from Dr. Taub and the developers saying that they either didn't know about Silver's profits or didn't consider it bribery. The defense claimed that Bharara's office was trying to convict Silver for things state legislators do regularly. According to The New York Times, defense lawyer Steven F. Molo said in his opening statement: "They look at conduct which is legal, conduct which is normal, conduct which allows government to function consistent with the way that our founding fathers of the state of New York wanted it to function, and they say this is illegal." Silver didn't testify and his lawyers didn't call any witnesses.
After the arrest, Silver resigned from the speaker position, but kept his seat in the state assembly — a seat that he'll now have to give up. He faces up to 130 years in prison for the federal charges.