Sheldon Silver, a former New York Assembly speaker who brokered legislative deals for two decades before criminal charges abruptly ended his career, was sentenced Friday to seven years in prison by a judge who said political corruption in the state must end.
The punishment, announced by U.S. District Judge Valerie E. Caproni, amounts to five fewer years in prison than she gave him after he was initially convicted in the case in 2015.
She noted that the conviction of the 74-year-old Democrat came in a year in which Joseph Percoco, a once-close aide to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and former New York State Senate leader Dean Skelos, a Republican, also were convicted at corruption trials.
Until 2015, Cuomo, Silver and Skelos made up what was known in Albany as “three men in a room” who every year negotiated the state budget and important legislation behind closed doors.
The judge said the trials meant that “corruption cases have touched either directly or indirectly all of the infamous ‘three men in a room.’”
“This has to stop,” Caproni said. “New York has to get its act together.”
Before announcing the prison term and a $1.75 million fine, Caproni said Silver seemed to have aged more than would be normal in the last three years while his case has proceeded.
She said “further reflection” led her to the conclusion that the original sentence was longer than necessary.
Still, she said: “This crime was driven by unmitigated greed.”
Caproni said Silver “wanted to seem to be a man of the people while he was using his public position to line his pockets.” She added that she believes Silver knows “in his heart of hearts that he did something both venal and criminal.”
Given a chance to speak, Silver, requesting mercy, said: “Going forward, I feel I will continue to be ridiculed and shamed.”
Silver’s original conviction was tossed out by an appeals court, but he fared no better at a second trial this spring. A jury once again found him guilty of taking nearly $4 million in return for legislative favors he performed for a cancer researcher and real estate developers.
In a letter to the judge, Silver had begged for mercy.
“I pray I will not die in prison,” Silver wrote, saying he was “broken-hearted” that he damaged the trust people have in government.
“The work that has been the focus of most of my life has become dirty and shameful,” Silver had said in his letter. “Everything I ever accomplished has become a joke and a spectacle. ... I beg for your mercy so that I can somehow go out into the world again to atone to everyone I have hurt.”
Prosecutors had argued that Silver “repeatedly corrupted the great power of his office for personal profit” and should get at least a decade in prison.
After the sentencing, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement he hoped the “fittingly stiff sentence sends a clear message: brokering official favors for your personal benefit is illegal and will result in prison time.”
The judge said Silver can begin serving his sentence on Oct. 5 if she does not grant his request to be free pending appeal.
First elected in 1976, Silver served as speaker for 21 years, resigning after his 2015 arrest from a seat that served lower Manhattan.
His sentencing comes 10 days after Skelos and his son, Adam, were convicted of extortion, wire fraud and bribery at a retrial for each of them.
Like Silver, Skelos and his son also were granted a new trial after the Supreme Court narrowed public corruption law as it reversed the conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. They also were convicted at a retrial.
Skelos served in the Senate from 1985 to 2015 and became Senate leader in 2008.
Over 30 New York state lawmakers have left office under a cloud of criminal or ethical allegations since 2000. More than a dozen have been convicted of charges including authorizing bribes to get on a ballot, diverting money meant for community programs into a campaign and skimming funds from contributions to a Little League baseball program.
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