New York

Ex-NY Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver sentenced to 12 years for corruption

Sheldon Silver in January 2015.

Sheldon Silver in January 2015.  (AP Photo/The Daily Gazette, Patrick Dodson)

Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a backroom master whose name was synonymous with political power in New York for a generation, was sentenced Tuesday to 12 years in prison, taking his place atop the state's crowded lineup of crooked politicians behind bars.

Silver, a 72-year-old Manhattan Democrat, lowered his head slightly and closed his eyes briefly as a stern U.S. Judge Valerie Caproni announced his fate.

"I hope the sentence I impose upon you will make other politicians think twice until their better angels take over -- or, if there are no better angels, perhaps the fear of living out his golden years in an orange jumpsuit," said Caproni, who also imposed a $1.75 million fine and a $5.3 million forfeiture.

Silver led the Assembly for more than two decades before he became the centerpiece of one of New York's steepest political falls from grace. He was convicted last year in a $5 million corruption case alleging he traded favors to enrich himself and then lied about it.

"I believe in the justice system, and we will pursue all remedies that are available," Silver said as he left court. He's free on bail for now; he's scheduled to report to prison July 1.

His sentencing was a marquee moment in Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's quest to clean up a state government he has called a "cauldron of corruption."

More than 30 other state lawmakers have left office under a cloud of criminal or ethical allegations since 2000.

Silver's former state Senate counterpart, Republican ex-Majority Leader Dean Skelos, is due to be sentenced later this month on his own corruption conviction. Skelos was found guilty, at a separate trial, of using his position to arrange payments and a job for his son.

Bharara called Silver's sentence "a just and fitting end to Sheldon Silver's long career of corruption."

The gray-haired, bespectacled Silver was first elected in 1976 and served as speaker for 21 years, becoming the classic Albany insider with the power to control bills and state spending singlehandedly in backroom negotiations. Known for his often inscrutable comments and wary, phlegmatic demeanor, Silver gained the nickname "the Sphinx."

Prosecutors say Silver came to trade his office for $4 million in kickbacks from a cancer researcher and real estate developers. They said he amassed more than $2 million in assets and arranged to receive a $70,000 annual pension from the state.

Prosecutors added to Silver's miseries in a pre-sentencing filing that cited two extramarital affairs he's had, saying he abused his position by giving preferential professional treatment to both, including a state government job for one of them.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Cohen said Tuesday that Silver had been protected for years by systems he put in place to cover up his crimes, including measures to restrict disclosures of outside income.

Silver told the judge Tuesday he had let down his family, colleagues and constituents.

"I'm truly, truly sorry for that," he said.

His lawyers, Joel Cohen and Steven Molo, sought a sentence of community service and house arrest, saying Silver still could help the public and noting that he has been treated for prostate cancer over the last year.

Silver and Skelos comprised two of the so-called "three men in a room" who control state government. The third man in the room, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, promised sweeping reforms to New York's anti-corruption laws after last year's convictions. But so far, there has been no significant action.

Bharara also is investigating Cuomo's office, looking into potential conflicts of interest and improper bidding in a signature state economic development program in Buffalo. The prosecutor also is examining consulting work done by one of Cuomo's former top aides in 2014, when the aide spent eight months on leave. In response, Cuomo's administration is conducting an internal review.