NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver – once one of the most powerful people in New York state politics – was sentenced to 12 years in prison Tuesday following his conviction in a $5 million corruption case.
Silver, 72, was also fined $1.75 million when he was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni. He will also have to make restitution of more than $5 million.
The next big decision is whether Silver will remain free pending his appeal. If the judge decides the answer is no, he must report to prison July 1.
As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, the sentence completed the fall from grace for the Lower East Side Democrat. The stiff penalty could leave Silver in prison for the rest of his life, and was intended to send a message that corruption will not be tolerated.
The judge told Silver she took the action because his crime “cast a shadow over everything he has done.”
Judge Caproni further dismissed Silver as a “scheming and corrupt politician,” and said “corruption makes the public very cynical,” CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported.
As he left court Tuesday afternoon, Silver looked sullen and pale as he shuffled past the crush of cameras that followed him. He was a mere shadow of his former self – once a dominant force in state government.
“I believe in the justice system, and we’ll pursue whatever remedies the system makes available,” Silver said in a hushed voice outside court.
Silver was convicted of fraud, extortion and money laundering – accepting bribes and kickbacks of nearly $5 million. Prosecutors said he amassed more than $2 million in assets and arranged to receive a $70,000 annual pension from the state.
In court, Silver sat quietly as the prosecution thrust and the defense parried. Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Cohen accused Silver of “enormous, unprecedented greed – unprecedented corruption.”
Prosecutors had asked that Silver serve at least 15 years in prison, saying he corrupted the institution that he led for more than two decades and caused “immeasurable damage” to the democratic process and public trust.
They had wanted Silver to serve more time in jail than any politician convicted of corruption in New York state. The longest sentence was imposed on Brooklyn Assemblyman William Boyland Jr., who was sentenced to 14 years last year in a bribery case.
Under federal sentencing guidelines, Silver could have gotten 22 to 27 years. Judge Caproni said the maximum allowable sentence would be draconian and unjust given Silver’s age.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said justice was served by the sentence. Right before the sentencing hearing began, Bharara entered the courtroom, went up to the prosecution table, and shook hands with each member of the prosecution team.
The defense urged the court to “temper justice with mercy,” saying Silver had an “unrivaled record of service” and calling Silver “compassionate” and “thoughtful.” They also noted he in poor health.
Silver’s attorneys the judge to sentence him to community service.
Nonetheless, defense attorney Joel Cohen said his client was had been ready for the day
“He’s a pretty steady guy,” Cohen said. “This is a tough result. We understand that.”
In an April 14 letter to the judge, Silver had asked that she consider the “good things” he’s done as she decides his punishment.
“I failed the people of New York. There is no question about it,” he wrote. “What I have done has hurt the Assembly, and New York, and my constituents terribly, and I regret that more than I can possibly express.”
He added: “Because of me, the government has been ridiculed. I let my peers down, I let the people of the State down, and I let down my constituents — the people of lower Manhattan that I live among and fought for. They deserve better.”
Silver also offered an apology in open court, saying he was “truly, truly sorry.”
Friends and loved ones also wrote letters asking the judge for leniency on Silver’s behalf, including former New York City Mayor David Dinkins and Silver’s wife Rosa, who calls him a good man battling prostate cancer, CBS2’s Janelle Burrell reported.
“It terrifies me that his father and brother both died from the same cancer Shelly was diagnosed with. I’m afraid he will be sick and, even worse, die alone,” his wife wrote.
His son, Ed, wrote about their family time at their Lower East Side apartment and summer home in the Catskills, saying, “I mention these houses as they represent the values my parents taught us. You buy what you need…”
But Arthur Schwartz, who is currently running for state Assembly, asked for a tough sentence.
“New York State ranks as the number one state for political corruption in the entire United States and here was the number one kahuna of all,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz said the sentence should be severe despite Silver’s ill health.
“They have very good doctors in the prison system,” said Schwartz, the Democratic district leader for the area near Silver’s old district.
It was unclear if the judge was influenced in her sentencing by revelations that claimed Silver was involved in a series of extramarital affairs with two women who seemed to profit from their relationship. One of the women was a lobbyist who had clients before the state, the other a former state assemblywoman who was hired for a state job due to Silver’s pressure and influence.
Silver’s attorneys called those claims unproven and salacious.
In the wake of the sentence, Dick Dadey of the good government group the Citizens Union said more needs to be done about government corruption.
“I think it sends a needed message, but it’s not the complete message,” Dadey said. For far too long, we have focused on punishing our elected officials who are convicted of corruption. What we now need to do is actually prevent the corruption from happening. And that’s where Albany has failed in its job.”
A new poll shows 97 percent of New Yorkers want something done about corruption in Albany.
When asked how serious corruption is, 58 percent said it’s “very serious,” 35 percent say “somewhat serious,” three percent say corruption is “not very serious.”
Voters were also asked about corruption among state legislators. Twenty-six percent say it’s “very serious,” 39 percent said “somewhat serious,” while 22 percent say it’s “not very serious.”
Silver was once one of Albany’s most powerful – along with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and former Senate leader Dean Skelos, who together with Silver were sometimes called the “three men in a room.”
He served as leader of the state Assembly from 1994 through early 2015.
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