Silver Found Guilty on 7 Corruption Charges

Sheldon Silver, center, the former New York Assembly speaker, leaving court after the verdict with his attorneys Steven Molo of MoloLamken, left and Joel Cohen, of counsel at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan.
Sheldon Silver, center, the former New York Assembly speaker, leaving court after the verdict with his attorneys Steven Molo of MoloLamken, left and Joel Cohen, of counsel at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan.
NYLJ/Rick Kopstein
Former Albany powerhouse Sheldon Silver was found guilty on all counts Monday of scheming to take bribes and kickbacks and extort money in return for favors he delivered as speaker of the New York State Assembly.
A federal jury convicted Silver of reaping some $4 million in ill-gotten gains, most of it through legal referrals to a personal injury law firm and a real estate law firm, delivering guilty verdicts on four counts of theft of honest services, two counts of Hobbs Act extortion and a single count of money laundering.
Silver, 71, showed little reaction as the forewoman read out the guilty verdict on each count and the automatic death knell of the Democrat’s 39-year career in the Assembly representing lower Manhattan. Flanked by his defense attorneys, the man who held the speaker’s gavel for 21 years sat still, with his hands folded in his lap.
Silver, who is expected to aggressively challenge his conviction on appeal, faces a substantial prison term when he is sentenced by Southern District Judge Valerie Caproni sometime in 2016.
The verdict was a victory for Assistant U.S. Attorneys Carrie Cohen James Master, Andrew Goldstein and James McDonald. It was also a signature win for Southern District U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara who has waged a campaign against political corruption in courtrooms and in the public speeches and press conferences.
“Today, Sheldon Silver got justice, and at long last, so did the people of New York,” said Bharara in a statement. He was in the courtroom with some of his top staff to hear the jury’s decision.
It was a difficult defeat for the defense team, led by Steven Molo and Justin Shur of MoloLamken and Joel Cohen, counsel at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, who suffered a series of adverse rulings from the bench before and during trial.
In the courtroom after the verdict, Molo told reporters they were “disappointed” and intend to file post-trial motions and an appeal.
The defense lawyers met with the jury after the verdict to try to gain insight, both for their motions due before Caproni in January and Silver’s appeal next year to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, where they will take aim at several of the judge’s evidentiary rulings.
While most of the jurors left the courthouse without granting interviews to reporters, two spoke briefly. One juror, who gave her first name, Bianca, said the case was clear, but that jurors wanted to take their time and make sure they had it right, as they had someone’s life in their hands.
Another, who declined to give her name, described the deliberations as “tedious.”
Referral Fees
The first two counts of honest services fraud covered the time from 2000 through Silver’s arrest in January 2015 and involved some $3 million in referral fees Silver received from Weitz & Luxenberg for asbestos patients referred by Dr. Robert Taub.
In return for the fees, Silver committed “officials acts,” including sending two, $250,000 in grants to support Taub’s asbestos research at New York Presbyterian and Columbia University Mesothelioma Center in 2005 and 2006.
The money came from a discretionary fund controlled by Silver in the Assembly under the New York State Health Care Reform Act.
When Silver could no longer provide the money, he told Taub “I can’t do this anymore” but he continued to do personal favors for the doctor, and, after a dry spell, continued getting the lucrative referrals.
The second two counts of honest services fraud involved some $700,000 in referral fees to Goldberg & Iryami for the tax appeal business of real estate developer Glenwood Management, the largest campaign contributor in New York State, and a second developer, Witkoff Group. These referral fees, of which the developers were unaware until late 2011, were allegedly in exchange for favorable tax and rent regulation legislation Silver delivered to the industry.
Counts five and six were for extortion under color of official right, one each for the mesothelioma and real estate schemes. The final count of money laundering was based on Silver making lucrative investments with “criminally-derived” money.
The trial on the fourth floor of the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse ran for four weeks from jury selection to a verdict that was reached over three partial days of deliberation straddling the Thanksgiving break. Twice it was interrupted by jurors who wanted out of serving, with one complaining of isolation and disrespect in the jury room and another arguing without success that he might have a conflict of interest.
The Silver trial ran in tandem with the ongoing trial of Silver’s counterpart in the New York State Senate, former Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who, along with his son, Adam Skelos, is accused of a conspiracy to use his position to have businesses steer some $300,000 in jobs, contracts and other benefits to Adam Skelos.
The father-and-son team are on trial before Judge Kimba Wood, across the street at the Daniel Patrick Moynihan U.S. Courthouse.
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At the Silver trial, the jury heard from Taub, attorneys from both law firms, Assembly employees and lobbyists.
Richard Runes, a lobbyist for Glenwood Management, who arranged for campaign contributions by the company, testified that he pressed Silver for changes in 2011 to rent regulations that were approved.
Runes said both he and Glenwood principal Leonard Litwin were surprised in late 2011 to learn that Silver was getting referral fees for Glenwood sending cases to Goldberg & Iryami under a secret referral agreement, but they elected to continue.
Runes had told the government in a prior interview that the decision whether to terminate the fee sharing was “like holding a tiger by the tail” and it was “a difficult decision to make” because Silver was one of the most powerful people in the state.
Closing Arguments
Molo and his team tried unsuccessfully to paint Silver’s outside income as a natural occurrence in a citizen legislature and above board.
The defense insisted there was no quid pro quo in either the real estate or the asbestos scheme and that the referrals were about building and maintaining generalized “good will” with one of the most powerful people in New York State.
Molo emphasized to the jury in closing arguments that Taub insisted in his agreement with prosecutors to testify that he would not state the patient referrals he made to Weitz & Luxenberg were “in exchange for” the grants and other personal benefits, but that he merely wanted to stay in the good graces of Silver because of his support for mesothelioma research.
Molo on closing insisted the prosecutors had a jaundiced view of Albany and had presented “a theory in search of a case.”
But Goldstein, summing up for the government, told the jury that Silver spent years “cheating and lying and getting away with it” and the jury had “learned the truth about the defendant’s crimes and he can’t get away with it any longer.”

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