Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a consummate backroom dealer who wielded power for more than two decades, was sentenced to 12 years in Federal Prison on federal corruption charges. He must report to prison by noon on July 1.
Silver’s lawyers asked the judge to recommend that he go to Otisville prison camp — a popular destination for Orthodox Jewish prisoners. The judge reponded that she doesn’t have ultimate control over where he goes, but she will recommend that to the Bureau of Prisons.
The 72-year-old Manhattan Democrat pleaded for leniency during a hearing at which prosecutors sought more than a decade behind bars for causing “immeasurable damage” to the public trust.
“I’ve let down my constituents, family and colleagues”, Silver said, “and I’m truly, truly sorry for that”.
Silver was convicted last year in a $5 million corruption case alleging he traded favors to enrich himself and then lied about it. His former Senate counterpart, Republican ex-Majority Leader Dean Skelos, is also set to be sentenced this month after being convicted of using his position to arrange payments and a job for his son.
Silver and Skelos comprised two of the so-called “three men in a room” who control state government, and their cases produced marquee convictions in Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s ongoing 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.
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 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.
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.
Defense lawyers sought leniency for Silver, citing his age, health and good deeds.
In an April 14 letter to the judge, Silver asked that she consider the “good things” he’s done as she decides his punishment.
Silver’s lawyers have cited his efforts after 9/11 and Superstorm Sandy to aid his community, including personally delivering food supplies to a lower Manhattan apartment building after the devastating storm. They also say he made vast improvements to education, including starting a formal mentoring program that drew hundreds of students to the Assembly each year.
“I failed the people of New York. There is no question about it,” he wrote. “What I have done has hurt the Assembly, and New York, and my constituents terribly, and I regret that more than I can possibly express.”
He added: “Because of me, the government has been ridiculed. I let my peers down, I let the people of the state down, and I let down my constituents — the people of lower Manhattan that I live among and fought for. They deserve better.”
Polls show corruption is of growing concern to the public. A Siena College poll released Tuesday found that 97 percent of New Yorkers say it’s important for lawmakers and Cuomo to pass ethics reforms before the Legislature adjourns in June.