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