NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was found guilty on all counts Monday afternoon in his federal trial on charges of bribery, extortion and money laundering.
As CBS2’s Jessica Schneider reported, Silver was one of the most powerful men in Albany up until about a year ago – along with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and former Senate leader Dean Skelos, who together with Silver were sometimes called the “three men in a room.”
But at 4 p.m., he was convicted of receiving $5 million in improper fees from law firms for referrals. He showed no expression when the verdict was read, Schneider reported.
“Ultimately, I believe after we file the legal challenges, we’ll have a different result,” Silver said.
Silver’s attorney, Steven F. Molo, was by his side.
“We’ll be filing challenges in district court and we’ll continue the legal fight,” Molo said. “We’re disappointed.”
Silver walked out of court just before 6 p.m. He only said that he was disappointed, and that he will fight the verdict on appeal with his attorneys.
He now faces up to 130 years in prison.
“Today, Sheldon Silver got justice, and at long last, so did the people of New York,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a news release.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo remarked on the verdict late Monday evening.
“Today, justice was served. Corruption was discovered, investigated, and prosecuted, and the jury has spoken,” Cuomo said in the statement. “With the allegations proven, it is time for the Legislature to take seriously the need for reform. There will be zero tolerance for the violation of the public trust in New York.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio also released a statement about the verdict late Monday.
“Today’s verdict is a reminder that the public good must be the only priority for elected officials. The people of New York expect and deserve better,” the mayor said.
In a lengthier statement, current state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-The Bronx) said accountability and transparency must be maintained.
“I am deeply saddened by the events that have taken place this year, culminating with today’s conviction of former Speaker Sheldon Silver,” Heastie said in part. “Words simply aren’t enough. We will continue to work to root out corruption and demand more of elected officials when it comes to ethical conduct. The Assembly Majority remains committed to exploring ideas and implementing reforms to restore trust in our government.”
As WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported, good government groups hailed the verdict as a sign of much-needed change.
“This is the political equivalent of an earthquake in Albany,” said Rus Haven with NYPIRG – the New York Public Interest Research Group . “I think this is an incredible opportunity for change. It’s up to the government to lead on that. If we don’t get real reforms pretty soon we’re just going to see this movie repeated.”
NYPIRG called on Cuomo and legislative leaders to seize that moment and pass laws limiting lawmakers’ outside income.
The jurors left the court without a word after finding Silver guilty on all seven counts – four counts of honest services fraud, two of extortion, and one of money laundering.
Silver had walked into court Monday morning appearing as confident as he has since his January indictment. But after two and a half days of deliberations, the 12-member jury handed the former assembly speaker a resounding defeat.
It took the jurors about 13 hours to reach their conclusion.
Over the course of deliberations, two jurors asked to be excused from deliberations – one of them earlier on Monday.
The juror sent a note Monday to U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan. He said he just learned about a conflict of interest.
The juror, a cab driver, disclosed that the man from whom he leased his medallion was an acquaintance of Silver.
“I … no longer wish to participate as a juror on this case,” the note read. “I believe there is a conflict of interest that I just learned about. Thank you.”
The juror, a cab driver, discovered over the holiday weekend that he leases a taxi from a company whose owner is a friend or acquaintance of Silver and possibly attends the same synagogue, WCBS 880’s Ginny Kosola reported.
The judge did not excuse him and sent him back with instructions.
Shortly after deliberations began last Tuesday, a juror begged in a note to be dropped from the case, saying other jurors were bullying her and “making me feel very, very uncomfortable.”
“My heart is pounding and my head feels weird,” she wrote. “I don’t feel like I can be myself right now! I need to leave!”
As CBS2’s Matt Kozar reported, that juror, Arlene Phillips, said she sent a note to the judge last week asking to be excused because she felt pressured by her fellow jurors, who did not respect her views.
“Everyone else had their opinion but at that time I felt like they weren’t respecting my opinion,” Phillips said. “Or you know, I felt a lot of pressure.”
Phillips said she was the only member of the jury who thought silver was not guilty, until this afternoon after she reviewed the evidence.
Defense attorney Deborah Blum says turmoil in the jury room could give silver ammunition for an appeal.
“When a juror says that they’re being pressured by other jurors, which is what I believe her note said to the judge, that is a ground for an appeal,” Blum said.
But she remained on the jury after the judge instructed jurors to be respectful to one another and to listen to and exchange views.
Silver, who maintained he did nothing wrong and would be vindicated at trial, stepped down from his post after his January arrest, but he retains his Assembly seat.
His lawyer had argued that Silver, a lawyer, was entitled to accept payments for outside work.
The three-week trial earlier wrapped up with Silver’s defense team calling no witnesses and Silver himself refusing to take the stand. In all, prosecutors had called 25 witnesses to prove their case.
In closing arguments on Nov. 23, the jury heard the case boil down to two conflicting portrayals of the once-powerful Democrat: one as a greedy lawmaker who enriched himself with bribery and another as a seasoned politician who played by the rules regarding outside income.
“Why did Sheldon Silver do it? He did it for the money,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Goldstein repeatedly told the jury. The evidence, he added, “shows that Sheldon Silver was a master of every form of deception — lying, keeping secrets, even splitting hairs.”
He also took aim at the defense’s accusation that overzealous prosecutors were trying to criminalize behavior that’s politics as usual in the Assembly.
“Let’s dispense with the nonsense … and let’s talk about the evidence, which Sheldon Silver tried desperately to keep secret for years,” he said.
Defense attorney Steven Molo countered by accusing the government of embracing a flawed theory of a circumstantial case. In their eyes, “If a fact gets in a way of that theory, you ignore it, and if you can’t ignore it, you twist it,” he said.
He added: “A lesser person would have folded, but Sheldon Silver is a fighter. He knows he did not commit a crime. There was no quid quo pro. He did not sell his office.”
In another Manhattan federal courtroom, the corruption trial resumed for former state Senate leader Skelos. Jurors in that trial are still hearing evidence related to charges that he engaged in extortion and solicited bribes to provide hundreds of thousands of dollars for his son, who is his co-defendant. Both have pleaded not guilty.
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