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
Assemblyman Pete Lopez introduced a bill last Thursday that would extend New York City’s current rent laws for four years. The best part of this bill is that Part B of the legislation would repeal Chapter 1 of the Laws of 2013, also know as the NY SAFE Act.
In an interview, Lopez said that this was an attempt to draw attention to what he said was “a huge disconnect between cultures,” referring to the people that live in the five boroughs versus the people living in upstate rural New York. He said that upstate residents in general place the same importance on the preservation of Second Amendment rights that New York City dwellers reserve for the preservation of affordable housing.
Lopez also said the controversial 2013 gun control law was a failure as an attempt to stop violence, and said that he’s not ignorant of the root causes of crime.
From the justification memo for the Lopez bill:
The SAFE Act has been surrounded by controversy since its enactment in 2013. The bill, riddled with errors and omissions, was passed with no time for public input or thoughtful consideration by the Legislature. The provisions contained within the SAFE Act, have been roundly criticized as an attack on Second Amendment rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution. Consequently, it is no surprise that key provisions of the SAFE Act have not been implemented and several court cases challenging its constitutionality are pending. While many agree more needs to be done to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and those suffering from mental illness, the SAFE Act does not, and has not, addressed these societal challenges but instead has targeted law-abiding citizens who use firearms for sport and self-defense. New York City rent regulation has been equally controversial and viewed by some as a violation of private property rights of building owners. The passage of rent regulation legislation has been contentious, with the last four-year extender passed at the very close of Legislative Session in 2011. Missing from any discussion surrounding the SAFE Act has been the collective call to address the root causes of violence in our society. Understandably, urban and inner-city populations might look at a fire arm as a threat but what has been failed to be addressed is the acknowledgment that a fire arm is only a weapon when used as such. In today’s culture of violence, a rock, a stick, or even someone’s bare hands, could have the same devastating impact as a gun when used with malicious intent. The sponsor believes our collective challenge is to provide a framework that gives people hope and opportunity; in combination, education, job skills, job placement, clean decent housing, and mental health and other counseling services, can have a marked impact on shaping people’s lives. This legislation simply seeks to bring the priorities of two very different cultures to the forefront in an effort to get both sides to talk to each other both meaningfully and sincerely. It is hoped the dialogue fostered by this bill can help New Yorkers find common ground that promotes freedoms and offers protections and security to those in need.
We will have to wait and see if this will gain any traction.