Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was convicted Monday in a $5 million public-corruption case, cementing a stunning fall from power that exposed Albany’s sleazy culture of influence-peddling — and showed that it reached to the top.
On its third day of rocky deliberations, a Manhattan federal jury handed down guilty verdicts on all seven counts against Silver, despite two jurors threatening to throw the trial into turmoil by demanding to be excused.
Silver, a 71-year-old veteran lawmaker who was once one of the most powerful politicians in the state, was found guilty of honest-services fraud, extortion and money-laundering for trading political favors to enrich himself and then lying about it.
He now faces a maximum of 130 years behind bars, although under federal sentencing guidelines, he will likely get no more than 20 years. Silver, who remains free on bail until his sentencing, plans to appeal.
Even in a state capital where more than 30 lawmakers have left office facing criminal charges or allegations of ethical misconduct since 2000, the case against Silver was an extraordinary turn.
And his prosecution was a marquee case in Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara’s quest to clean up a state government he has called a “cauldron of corruption.”
“Today, Sheldon Silver got justice, and at long last, so did the people of New York,’’ Bharara said in a brief statement.
A fidgety Silver looked deflated as the jurors delivered their verdict. He glanced at Bharara, who was in the courtroom with his top deputies. At one point, Bharara shook hands with and slapped the backs of his prosecution team.
“I am disappointed, and I will be working on [an appeal] with my attorney,’’ a grim Silver said as left court, climbing into a black Chevy Suburban SUV.
It wasn’t an easily won battle for government prosecutors.
“There was a lot of holdouts. It was hard . . . on the last day and the day before,’’ said “Juror No. 11,” cabby Kenneth Graham, who earlier Monday tried to get excused from the case, citing a relationship between the man who leases him his cab and Silver that he became aware of over the weekend.
During the first day of deliberations last week, juror Arlene Phillips asked the judge to take her off the case because she said she was being bullied by other jurors. The judge refused.
Phillips, a 53-year-old Verizon technician from Mount Vernon in Westchester, admitted outside court that she was the lone holdout up until about 3 p.m. Monday.
She said she initially was convinced that the state grant money Silver steered to a cancer doctor in exchange for lucrative patient referrals to his law firm was just “good will” on Silver’s part.
“But today, after going through more evidence, I saw it differently,” Phillips said, referring to “disclosure forms that hid certain money.”
“I was wondering why wouldn’t it be out in the open like other things, why was this hidden.”
Phillips said she would have liked to have heard from Silver himself. He never took the stand.
“At first, I thought he was a non-assuming, humble person, and I wanted to hear his voice to determine if there was an arrogance or anything that showed me that he is capable of being deceitful, and I didn’t see that for the longest,” the juror said.
“I gave him the benefit of the doubt. And it was disappointing. I still think he is humble and unassuming, but he may have this other side that he feels that as speaker . . . he was entitled to do the things he did.”
Juror Bianca Maynard, 37, of The Bronx, said that despite Phillips’ claim, “no one was bullied” during deliberations.
“There was no yelling or screaming or pushing around. We went in last week and reviewed the material over and over,” Maynard said. “She just wasn’t convinced last week.”
“Between 3:30 and 4 today, the one juror who initially disagreed felt comfortable saying that we were all set to go with the guilty verdict.”
The arrest, which sent political shock waves throughout the state, forced Silver to resign his leadership post, but he held on to his Assembly seat, which he had been in for nearly 40 years. He served as Assembly speaker for half that time.
Under state law, Silver’s conviction automatically booted him from office and barred him from ever again holding any state position.
The verdict came midway through the corruption trial of Silver’s one-time counterpart in the state Senate, former Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who is charged in an unrelated influence-peddling scheme along with his son, Adam.
Silver and Skelos were part of Albany’s “three men in a room,” which refers to the Legislature’s two leaders and governor, who together decide the state’s budget and legislative direction.
Dean Skelos refused to comment on Silver’s conviction, saying only, “My case is what I’m focused on.”
During Silver’s five-week trial, prosecutors presented an array of evidence that included testimony from co-conspirators who were cooperating with prosecutors to avoid getting charged in the case.
Columbia University cancer doctor Robert Taub — who got $500,000 in taxpayer-funded research grants from Silver — testified that he steered dozens of asbestos patients to Silver for legal representation by his law firm, Weitz & Luxenberg.
Silver, who was “of counsel” at the firm, pocketed more than $3 million for delivering those clients, testimony revealed.
Albany lobbyist Brian Meara testified that he set up a meeting between Silver and an exec at the developer Glenwood Management, which hired another law firm with ties to Silver to handle its property-tax litigation.
Silver got more than $700,000 from the firm of Goldberg & Iryami, with Meara testifying that he was “surprised and concerned” when Silver revealed the fee-splitting arrangement to him.
SOURCE :: NYPOST
ALBANY – We’re No. 1 – in corruption. No other state has more legislators forced out of office by ethical or criminal issues than New York, according to a study released on Monday.
In fact, the state set a national record for the number of lawmakers kicked out, or chased out of office since, 2012, the Center for Public Integrity, a good government group, found in a new study.
We’re talking about a gold medal-winning corruption performance by New York.
– John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany
The tally of 14 lawmakers does not include former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who is on trial for corruption, or his counterpart in the state Senate, former Majority Leader Dean Skelos, whose trial is scheduled for later this month.
The reported noted that Skelos is the fifth straight Senate leader to be charged with using his office illegally for personal gain.
Overall, the state received a grade of D Minus and ranked 30th in the nation — tied with Florida — for measures it has put in place for transparency and accountability.
“We’re talking about a gold medal-winning corruption performance by New York,” said John Kaehny, executive director Reinvent Albany, an advocacy group. “It’s a pretty bleak moment for public governance.”
Albany’s secretive budgeting process, commonly referred to as “three men in a room,” landed it dead last in the budgeting category, with a grade of F.
Nevertheless, the Empire State fared better than other states. Eleven received the lowest grade of F.
Alaska walked off with the highest overall grade, but that was just a C.
Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s independent audits earned a B+, highest in the nation in that category, helping lift the state from its dismal rating of 37th in 2012, which was the last time the survey was conducted.
The report said that DiNapoli’s office is effective “because of its robustly-funded” office, “which is headed by an elected official who is largely protected from interference by the governor or Legislature.”
“The office issues an annual report, which is publicly available and has shown little hesitation to go after state agencies, such as in a recent audit that identified $500 million in waste in the state’s Medicaid program,” the study said.
The study measured 245 “indicators” divided into 13 categories: public access to information, political financing, electoral oversight, executive accountability, legislative accountability, judicial accountability, state budget processes, state civil service management, procurement, internal auditing, lobbying disclosure, state pension fund management and ethics enforcement agencies.
SOURCE :: NYPost.com
From WRGC (Joseph Spector, Albany Bureau Chief):
The Republican-led state Senate on Monday approved a bill that would make a variety of changes to New York’s controversial gun-control law.
The measure faces an uphill fight in the Democratic-led Assembly as Senate Republicans look to reform the SAFE Act, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Democrats championed when it was approved in 2013.
Among the changes would include a repeal of a requirement that every purchaser of ammunition undergo a background check. The ammunition database that was part of the SAFE Act has yet to function, and the state allocated $27.7 million in 2013 to implement the law, including the creation of the database.
The bill, introduced late Friday, is sponsored by Sen. James Seward, a central New York Republican whose district includes the major gun manufacturing plant owned by Remington Arms. The bill passed the Senate, 35-26.
“These are commonsense changes, administrative changes to the SAFE Act,” Seward said on the Senate.
Seward was one of six Republican senators from upstate who supported Sen. John Flanagan, R-Suffolk County, to succeed indicted Majority Leader Dean Skelos last month.
Flanagan, who voted for the SAFE Act, has pledged to look at possible changes to the law as a nod to the upstate members.
The bill also includes several other reforms to the law.
It would amend the law to allow for the gifting of registered semiautomatic long guns to family members, who would then be required to undergo a background check.
Another change would no longer allow for gun registrations to be made public. Currently, the gun licenses are public unless, as part of the SAFE Act, a gun owner applies to the information kept private.
The change would no longer consider the information public, yet the bill makes it explicit that statistical data on the number of registrations and recertifications would be public. Gun groups have successfully sued to have statistical information made public, but State Police have fought the requests.
Another provision of the SAFE Act that requires reporting mental-health issues involving gun owners would also be clarified. The bill would aim to make the reporting of such cases more accurate by identifying reported people, changing the guidelines and simplifying the appeal process.
Another reform would give counties and the state Division of Criminal Justice Services more oversight of the license recertification process — not State Police. The recertification is required as of 2018 every five years, but State Police handling the process instead of counties has wrangled gun-rights groups.
Sen. Daniel Squadron, D-Brooklyn, criticized the bill, saying the SAFE Act has proven successful in better reporting and monitoring gun ownership and sales.
“This bill is not a reasoned and considered amendment to the SAFE Act,” he said during the Senate debate. “This bill undermines some provisions that are working, such as the registration of ammo dealers.”
Last month, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, doubted whether Democrats have the appetite to revisit the SAFE Act. Some Democrats want more gun-control laws.
“That would probably be very challenging, but if it comes up, we’ll bring it to the conference,” Heastie said. “But I don’t really foresee too many changes coming from us in the SAFE Act.”
If you are not already aware, the Governor proposed a seven point plan for fighting gun violence at his State of the State address this week, many of which affect law abiding gun owners. His plan includes further restricting “assault weapons”, further restricting “high capacity” magazines, elimination of online ammunition sales to NY residents, background checks for all private sales and a state NICS check on all ammunition purchases.
Please take a few moments to write and, more importantly, CALL your state representatives as well as their leadership.
Some points to make:
• No new firearm restrictions
• No new magazine restrictions
• No new restrictions on the sale or purchase of ammunition
• No new registration of firearms
Who to contact:
Most importantly, please contact Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos – Office phone: (518) 455-3171, email: firstname.lastname@example.org , website: http://www.nysenate.gov/senator/dean-g-skelos/contact
Your own state senator who can be found here: http://www.nysenate.gov/
Gov. Cuomo at Office phone: (518) 474-8390, website: http://www.governor.ny.gov/contact/G…ontactForm.php
Senate Co Leader Jeffrey Klein at Office Phone: (518)-455-3595, email: email@example.com website: http://www.nysenate.gov/senator/jeffrey-d-klein/contact
Thank you for your time,
Jeff and the NYFirearms.com team
Every year the New York Senate Majority Conference has an “anti-gun day” in Albany. This year Senate Minority Leader Brian Kolb and NYSRPA are sponsoring an outreach day to advocate the Second Amendment. New York’s sportsmen are invited to participate in the outreach day on January 12th, 2010 . NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre will be the keynote speaker. The event will be held from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm.
For more details, including contact information to make an appointment with your representative is available in the flier from NYSRPA here. Please schedule an appointment with your representative beforehand. Also please let Senator Kolb know you will be attending. NYSRPA has driving directions on their site.