NEW YORK – Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, formerly one of New York's most powerful politicians, was convicted Monday of charges that he traded favors to earn $5 million illegally and then lied about it.
The Manhattan federal court jury returned the verdict after a three-week trial in which prosecutors claimed that the 71-year-old Democrat repeatedly promised the favors to enrich himself. The defense countered that the government was trying to criminalize the longtime routines of politics in Albany.
Deliberations began with fireworks when a juror tried to beg off the panel less than two hours after talks started, accusing her fellow jurors of claiming she failed to use her common sense. But with instructions from Judge Valerie Caproni to respectfully exchange views, jurors settled down and resumed work.
The government had argued that the trial testimony of 25 witnesses and lots of documents proved Silver traded his office for riches.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Goldstein told jurors they had to convict Silver if they found money played a role in his decisions.
"There are four million reasons why you know that money played a part," he said, noting the amount of money the government says Silver earned from kickbacks from a cancer researcher and real estate developers. Prosecutors say he earned a million dollars more through investments.
Goldstein told jurors to reject the defense contention that Silver was just practicing politics as usual. "This was bribery. This was extortion. This was corruption," Goldstein said.
Defense attorney Steven Molo countered that his client fought bribery and extortion charges because he knew he was not guilty.
"He knows he did not commit a crime," Molo said. "There was no quid quo pro. He did not sell his office."
After the verdict, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said, "Today, Sheldon Silver got justice, and at long last, so did the people of New York."
Silver did not testify. Among witnesses called by the government was Dr. Robert Taub, who said he steered numerous clients with cancer caused by asbestos to Silver's law firm, enabling the legislator to pocket $3 million in referral fees. Meanwhile, testimony and evidence revealed, Silver caused $500,000 in taxpayer funds to go to Taub's research projects and helped his son and daughter get a job and an internship.
Prosecutors said Silver delivered tax-abatement and rent-control legislation that favored developers while some of New York's biggest developers hired a small law firm that secretly sent $700,000 in fees to the ex-speaker.
Silver, who gave up his speaker position but retained his assembly seat after his January arrest, has been on trial simultaneously with state Sen. Dean Skelos and his son on charges that the Republican badgered companies reliant upon his legislative provide over $300,000 to his son.
The two were among a group dubbed the "three men in a room" in Albany, a nod to the longstanding practice of legislative leaders and the governor negotiating key bills behind closed doors. Silver's arrest came the day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo referred to Skelos, Silver and himself as the "three amigos" during his budget presentation.
In all, more than 30 New York state lawmakers have left office facing criminal charges or allegations of ethical misconduct since 2000. In just the past five years, a lawmaker was convicted of taking bribes from a carnival promoter. A second filed thousands of dollars in expense claims for days he never even went to Albany. A third got a sham marriage in order to become a citizen. A fourth was accused of harassing female staffers and forcing one to touch cancerous tumors on his neck and armpit.