New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a power player in New York City politics for decades, was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison Tuesday after being convicted for fraud, extortion and money laundering in November. Here’s what you need to know about Sheldon Silver:
He’s a lifetime New Yorker, long time politician
Silver grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. A Democrat, he has been in the New York State Assembly since 1976, when he was first elected to represent his home neighborhood. He became speaker in 1994 after previous speaker, Saul Weprin, died in office. Silver remained there until he resigned in January 2015 amid corruption charges. Bronx Assemblyman Carl Heastie has taken his place.
He was one of “Three Men in A Room” making all the decisions – and the second one to be arrested
Last year, just before Silver’s resignation, Preet Bharara, the prosecutor in Silver’s case, denounced how deal making is done in Albany, according to a 2015 New York Times article. Bharara argued that too much power fell in the hands of “three men in a room” making all the important decisions—the governor, the state senate majority leader, and the state assembly speaker. By this logic, Silver was one of the most powerful men in the state.
But the last team of three has left a sour legacy. Former Republican majority leader of the New York State Senate Dean Skelos was also arrested back in May 2015 for corruption charges including bribery and fraud schemes. Bharara prosecuted Skelos as well, and according to the “New York Post,” he is also investigating Gov. Andrew Cuomo about his abrupt disbanding of a public corruption committee.
Silver has always been considered a stern leader
The idea that Silver might have had too much power is not new. For instance, Back in 2000, a Syracuse state assemblyman named Michael Bragman said that he believed that Silver was too powerful, so he launched a coup against the veteran speaker, garnering support and attempting to remove him from office. Silver quickly ended the coup, firing Bragman and winning over many of his supporters, but also contributing to his image as a powerful force.
He was seen as a tenant advocate – until now
Silver had a reputation as an advocate for state-administered rent regulation in New York City apartments. He publicly fought to renew rent-stabilization laws in 1997, 2003 and 2011. But many tenants’ advocacy groups felt that he fell short of addressing their concerns in negotiations. The Met Council on Housing, for instance, says that despite how he portrays himself, Silver was not a champion of tenants’ rights. Bharara’s lawsuit has supported these criticisms, revealing that he took bribes from developers, and pulled back punches in negotiations for more rent protection.
He is a lawyer – and that’s where he got into trouble
Silver got his law degree from Brooklyn Law School. In addition to being speaker of the New York State Assembly, he was also working “of counsel” for Weitz & Luxenberg, a law firm that specializes in mesothelioma and asbestos cases. Back in 2007, The “New York Post” noticed that Silver did not disclose his salary or what he did for the firm, and raised suspicions that he may have been referring county governments to his law firm in exchange for speaker-approved state grants. Bharara’s lawsuit was centered around that very issue. — James Farrell
What Got Sheldon Silver into Trouble
“ShelDONE” graced the covers of am New York’s print edition Wednesday morning, in response to former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver being sentenced to 12 years in prison on Tuesday. Here’s how things got to this point:
In January 2015, a criminal complaint was filed against Silver. U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara held a press conference , noting that “the complaint charges Speaker Silver of five counts of corruptly seeking legal business from a handful of people and entities with significant business or interests before the state, and then corruptly profiting from the legal fees that were paid.” Bharara said Silver accumulated about $4 million dollars in kickbacks and bribes, “disguised as ‘referral fees.’”
“As alleged, Silver quietly and cleverly figured out how to monetize his position as Speaker of the Assembly, in two principal ways. In both cases, as alleged, Silver cynically abused his law degree and New York’s lax disclosure rules to disguise kickbacks as legal referrals.” —Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York
A jury trial began in November 2015, and at the end of this trial, Sheldon Silver was convicted of money laundering, fraud and extortion—a total of seven counts (WSJ).
On April 14, 2016, Sheldon Silver wrote an apology letter to U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Caproni.
Judge Caproni handed down the 12-year prison sentence on May 3 in Manhattan. Silver is slated to go to prison on July 1. Silver must also pay fines of $1.75 million and forfeitures of $5.3 million (US Attorney’s Office).
Preet Bharara, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, tweeted Wednesday, “Today’s stiff sentence is a just and fitting end to Sheldon Silver’s long career of corruption.”
A statement from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office read, “Today’s decision sent a simple message that officials who abuse the public’s trust will be held accountable. Justice was served.”
Silver’s attorneys said they plan to appeal their client’s verdict and sentence. Corruption in Albany will remain in the news as former New York State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who was “found guilty of public-corruption charges” in December, will be sentenced next week.
— Natasa Bansagi
Gallery of Convicted Pols
A study released in November 2015 showed New York is the lead state in the number of legislators forced out of office by ethical or criminal issues. Over the last decade, there have been quite a number of convicted legislators, most recently being Former State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver who was just sentenced to 12 years in prison for accepting bribed and kickbacks. Here are some more politicians who got nabbed in their own corruption scandals.
— Mary Kekatos