A federal judge sentenced former Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver to 12 years in prison and $6.9 million in fines this afternoon. The disgraced lawmaker must report to prison by noon on July 1st.
A jury found Silver guilty last November of selling his office in schemes that netted him more than $5 million, convicting him of extortion, taking bribes, and money laundering. The arrangements Silver engineered steered kickback payments to him for referring tax and asbestos illness cases to separate law firms as part of quid pro quo arrangements he made with developers and a prominent cancer researcher, in exchange for favorable treatment by the state.
Federal prosecutors had asked Judge Valerie Caproni to hand down a sentence of more than 14 years in prison, saying that the sentence should be "greater than any sentence imposed on other New York State legislators convicted of public corruption offenses" because of the "unprecedented magnitude" of Silver's misdeeds. Former Brownsville assemblyman William Boyland Jr. was sentenced to 14 years last year for bribery.
Silver "caused unparralled damage to our political system and the public's belief in our state government," U.S. attorney Carrie Cohen said in court, calling Silver's actions the product of "pure greed." Caproni, she said, should "send a message that this is not how business is done in Albany—or it shouldn’t be—and that no one, including Sheldon Silver, is above the law."
The federal court's probation office had recommended Silver get 10 years prison time. Federal sentencing guidelines called for about 21 to 27 years.
"Without question, I've let down my family, my colleagues, my constituents," Silver said in court. "And I'm truly, truly sorry for that."
Silver is 72 and was treated for prostate cancer last year, meaning a sentence of 20 plus years could have meant he would die in prison.
"I am not going to impose a guidelines sentence in this case," Caproni said, explaining it would be "draconian and unjust" given his age.
In writing, Silver's lawyers had asked for an unspecified sentence "that incorporates extensive community service," arguing that Silver should be able to "continue to employ his unique talents to benefit others."
Defense: Silver is someone "whose actions and life, really beyond whatever was expected of him in his official duties, are extraordinary"
— Vivian Yee (@VivianHYee) May 3, 2016
Defense atty asks for community service, house arrest."Allow the public to continue to benefit form the truly unique talents of Mr. Silver."
— Nicole Fuller (@nicolefuller) May 3, 2016
Silver's lawyer: "he loves his neighbor as he loves himself."
— Victoria Bekiempis (@vicbekiempis) May 3, 2016
In a letter to the court, Silver offered a vague apology, noting that his lawyers had told him not to discuss the facts of the case because they plan to appeal. "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 wrote. He continued:
I failed the people of New York. There is no question about it. Other than my family, serving my constituents was the most important thing to me.
Silver's letter accompanied a glut of other letters of support from former constituents and prominent business, political, and nonprofit figures. One, from the head of the Fortune Society, a prisoner reentry organization, says that "justice would be served" by allowing Silver to volunteer helping former prisoners apply for jobs, "given his long-standing and deep compassion for the poor, and his deep level of knowledge" around employment barriers.
Silver resigned as speaker last January following his arrest, ending 20 years at the post. He was an assemblyman for nearly 40 years.
Other supporters included:
- Howard Slonim former president of the Lower East Side Business Improvement District, who wrote, "Mr. Silver deserves consideration at his sentencing for the beneficial deeds, helpful programs and economic assistance provided to a community that was very 'down' as a result of" the 9/11 attacks.
- Arthur H. Miller, writing on the letterhead of the Massachusetts firm Fletcher Tilton, where he is a lawyer, called Silver "my oldest friend," and described his interest in politics from a young age. "I beg you to show mercy to Shelly and recognize that the loss of his dream and all that has happened these last few months is sufficient punishment," Miller wrote.
- Nathan Lewin, of the New York law firm Lewin and Lewin, wrote, "There are few people in government who I would trust more than Sheldon Silver. His sins must be weighed in the context of a life full of good deeds and the integrity that impressed those who selected him as Speaker as well as constituents."
- Victor Papa, president of Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, wrote, "I am convinced of his inherent fervent goodness and motivations guided by faith."
- Alan Gleason, of the New York law firm Gleason and Koatz, wrote that Silver's "concern, compassion, and commitment to all District 1 residents...was unending and unselfish."
- Judy Rapfogel, Silver's long-time chief of staff and wife of William Rapfogel, serving federal prison time for embezzling millions from the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, wrote:
I realize that Shelly was convicted and that the nature of the crimes suggest that he cheated or betrayed New Yorkers. In my years of working with him, I have never known him to do anything other than work for the best interest of people. He always cared for and worked to help all New Yorkers.
There were also several prominent Jewish leaders. (Silver is an Orthodox Jew.)
"The letters clearly and persuasively paint a picture of a talented politician who went above and beyond the call of duty," Caproni said.
At the end of the day, though, he was a "scheming, corrupt politician," for whom the indictments of other politicians had "not one iota" of effect, she said. ""Those are not the actions of a basically honest person," she said of his crimes.
A slew of people also wrote to demand that the judge throw the book at Silver. Longtime Greenwich Village Democratic district leader Arthur Schwartz wrote:
Sheldon Silver is not just one more corrupt politician...He was the consistent voice in negotiations over rent laws, land use, voting rights, criminal justice, and environmental regulation. He was the trusted fiduciary, not just of the people who lived in his district, but of the people throughout the whole state...His brazen acts—the collection of over $5 million in bribes, covered up by fraud—tainted every act he has taken as our elected leader for 21 years, and every act of the State legislature...We will never know how much his private greed impacted the laws we live under day to day.
Prosecutors added more than a million in fines to what Silver made illegally. His lawyers said that was way too high because a) Silver paid taxes on the referral fees he collected from law firms, and b) the government supposedly failed to prove that he got $3 million for referring mesothelioma cases from researcher Dr. Robert Taub of Columbia University. Caproni rejected these arguments.
As part of restitution, the feds are set to take Silver's $70,000-a-year state pension. This sounds like a win for taxpayers in theory, but what it means is that instead of New York keeping the money, the federal government will divert the payments, presumably to the Department of Justice's Assets Forfeiture Fund and the Department of Treasury Forfeiture Fund, to be used for what the U.S. Attorney's Office describes as "[restoring] money to crime victims and for a variety of law enforcement purposes."
The feds backed off trying to take his two co-op apartments and his house in upstate Woodbridge, leaving his wife Rosa options for where to lay her head. In the lead-up to sentencing, Caproni unsealed documents from prosecutors alleging that Silver had two affairs, and granted favors to both mistresses, a state job to one, and special access to the other, a lobbyist. The New York Post has some TMI details on Silver's favored motels and an alleged heavy petting session at a Rangers game, if you're interested.
Silver was replaced in a special election month by Alice Cancel, a protege of his who during her campaign called him "a hero in this community" and his crimes "private." She later, when pressed by an interviewer, said he should serve time behind bars. Cancel was formally seated today, during Silver's sentencing.
Today's stiff sentence is a just and fitting end to Sheldon Silver's long career of corruption
— US Attorney Bharara (@PreetBharara) May 3, 2016
With the upcoming arrival of Silver, and presumably, his soon-to-be-sentenced counterpart, former Senate majority leader Dean Skelos, and Brooklyn state senator John Sampson, there will be nine former New York state legislators in federal prison. The New York Times checked in with four currently and recently incarcerated New York lawmakers and found them somewhat humbled, but also in denial about what they had done.
Efraín González Jr., former state senator from the Bronx convicted in 2009 of stealing more than $700,000 from nonprofits, was released in February. He said that Silver and Skelos are like everybody else in the legislature.
"I wouldn’t say they were crooks. Everybody does all that," González told the Times. "It’s, ‘I help you, you help me.’ So what is that? Politics."