71-year-old former Democratic New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was convicted Monday on seven corruption charges connected to a political quid-pro-quo scheme in which he allegedly leveraged his position to sell political favors to a cancer researcher and real estate developers in exchange for $4 million.
The charges on which he was convicted include honest services fraud, money laundering, and extortion. Silver was removed from his position as speaker following his January arrest and now, pursuant to his conviction, automatically loses the Assembly seat that he had held since 1976. He is expected to face up to 20 years in prison at an upcoming sentencing hearing that has yet to be scheduled. Silver’s attorneys say that he will appeal the convictions.
NY1 News notes that Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has scheduled a special election on April 19 to fill Silver’s now-vacant Lower Manhattan Assembly seat.
Silver’s surprising conviction has been widely perceived as a shot across the bow against corrupt, business-as-usual, smoky-backroom political deal-making in Albany.
“Throughout this trial, the government has pointed to things that have gone on in Albany which [are] standard practices in terms of how grants are reviewed, in terms of how member items are allocated, and suggested that they’re improper,” said Silver’s attorney Justin Shur according to The Wall Street Journal.
“Testimony and other evidence showed that Mr. Silver had arranged to have the State Health Department award two grants totaling $500,000 to Dr. Robert N. Taub, whose research focused on mesothelioma, a deadly form of cancer related to asbestos exposure. In return, Dr. Taub sent mesothelioma patients with potentially lucrative legal claims to Weitz & Luxenberg, which then shared a portion of its fees with Mr. Silver,” The New York Times explained. “In the second scheme, prosecutors charged, Mr. Silver had the two developers, Glenwood Management and the Witkoff Group, move certain tax business to a law firm, Goldberg & Iryami, that secretly shared its fees with Mr. Silver. In return, the speaker lent his support to critical rent legislation backed by Glenwood…”
New York Public Interest Research Group legislative director Blair Horner told NBC New York, “A political earthquake has hit Albany. This is a stinging rebuke to the ‘Albany business as usual’ defense and a clarion call to clean up state ethics.“