Court documents unsealed this morning show that former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, now facing sentencing after being found guilty of selling his office to the tune of $4 million, allegedly had affairs with two women, and granted them favors in return. Silver's lawyers have fought since last fall to keep the allegations under seal, arguing they were irrelevant to the charges of extortion, taking bribes, and money laundering. Federal prosecutors countered that the alleged affairs were evidence of his squirrelly moral compass, and showed his willingness to use his official position for personal gain.
In a motion last October, U.S. attorneys wrote that they had evidence, including an inadvertently recorded conversation where Silver whispered with one woman, a lobbyist with business before the state, about how to hide their relationship from a reporter sniffing around about extramarital affairs in Albany. "I don't think he caught us," Silver reportedly said of the journalist's inquiry. However, he expressed fear that requests for his travel and campaign spending records could expose the relationship.
They then allegedly moved on to talking about the lobbyist's client's business, with her complaining about her treatment by his staff and saying, "I don't talk to anybody about the issue except you."
Silver had a "long-running" affair with the other woman, and helped her get a state job, according to prosecutors. The federal filing claims that Silver kept two phones: one for government business, and one not registered in his name, for talking to his paramour. He purportedly recommended her for a job, the specifics of which are redacted, and called to check on the status of her application, ultimately getting her the position with some state body he had influence over.
Judge Valerie Caproni initially found that the prejudicial impact of the disclosures on a jury outweighed their relevance to the charges, and sealed the motions. Now, though, the U.S. Attorney's Office wants to bring up the affairs at sentencing, where Silver faces as many as 20 years in prison for each of seven counts. NBC and the New York Times sued to unseal the documents, and at a hearing yesterday Caproni said, "I believe I have been running afoul of the First Amendment. These people have a right to know and the public has a right to know." Lawyers for the unnamed women had stepped in in the intervening months to ensure that the records were redacted to protect their privacy.
"I view this as of a piece with the crimes for which Mr. Silver stands convicted," Judge Caproni said in court on Thursday. "Not exactly the same; no one is suggesting a quid pro quo, but of a piece of a misuse of his public office, and that’s why I think it’s relevant."
Lawyers for Silver told the Times, "These are simply unproven and salacious allegations that have no place in this case or public discussion."
Silver has four adult children with his wife Rosa, three of whom reportedly voted for him in his Lower East Side district for years after moving out of the neighborhood, each time a potential felony. Questions arose about the nature of Silver's relationship with his chief of staff Judy Rapfogel after the publication of an email from the investigation into Silver's coverup of sexual harassment by the late Brooklyn Democratic boss Vito Lopez. Lawyers for Lopez's targets claimed that Lopez repeatedly told one woman "that he wanted their relationship to be the same as Mr. Silver’s to his Chief of Staff and was explicit in what that meant." Rapfogel is the wife of William Rapfogel, Silver's longtime friend and co-conspirator in keeping affordable housing from being built on the Lower East Side, who is now serving federal prison time for embezzling millions from the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty.
At trial, prosecutors proved that Silver received nearly $4 million in kickback payments for referring tax and asbestos illness cases to law firms as part of quid pro quo arrangements he made with developers and a prominent cancer researcher.
Silver resigned as speaker last January following his arrest, ending 20 years at the post. He was an assemblyman for nearly 40 years and automatically forfeited his seat upon being convicted.