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Sheldon Silver gets 7 years in prison in $4 million political fraud scheme

Sheldon Silver has been sentenced to seven years in federal prison.

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He couldn’t beat the rap at his second trial — but ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver got a bit of mercy Friday when a judge sentenced him to seven years in prison for a scheme that got him $4 million in illicit legal fees.

Silver, 74, slouched in his courtroom chair as Manhattan Federal Judge Valerie Caproni said he’d serve five years less than the 12-year sentence she imposed in May 2016 on the same charges.

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Caproni also ordered Silver to pay a $1.75 million fine.

The feds had asked Caproni to sentence Silver, once one of New York’s most powerful politicians, to a term “substantially in excess” of 10 years.

“He is exactly what too many people think all politicians are. And that is deeply corrupt,” Caproni said.

“This crime is driven by unmitigated greed.”

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But she also felt a sorry for him.

Caproni noted that the case has clearly taken a toll on Silver. “Visually, he’s aged more than the three years chronologically that have gone by since he was first charged,” she said.

The judge also said she was also “struck by the breadth of support” from Silver’s family and friends, and said that when it came to constituent service he was “a gifted politician who went above and beyond the call of duty many times.”

But Caproni noted that Silver has shown no remorse and also won’t acknowledge he did anything wrong — factors that weighed in favor of a prison term.

She rejected Silver’s proposal for a sentence that combined prison time with community service that would include talking about ethics with state legislators.

She called that idea “not appropriate for a defendant who insists he did nothing criminal.”

“The last three years have been enormously difficult for me,” Silver said in court, asking for leniency.

“The events that are outlined in these trials have brought a great distrust in New York government. I am extremely, extremely remorseful for that.”

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In a letter to Caproni on July 19, Silver said he didn’t want to spend his remaining days behind bars.

“I pray I will not die in prison,” he wrote.

Silver was first elected to the Assembly in 1976 from a district that includes the Lower East Side — where he has lived his whole life — as well as the Financial District and much of Chinatown. He became Assembly speaker in early 1994, and kept that job for 21 years until his arrest in early 2015.

Sheldon Silver arrives at Manhattan Federal Court Friday.
Sheldon Silver arrives at Manhattan Federal Court Friday. (Alec Tabak for New York Daily News)

Nearly all that time, Silver collected referral fees from childhood pal Jay Arthur Goldberg’s law firm in return for getting it tax appeal work from two major Manhattan real estate developers. Prosecutors said that scheme netted Silver nearly $1 million.

In 2002, Silver joined the Weitz & Luxenberg law firm, and soon began referring as clients people who were sick with mesothelioma, a deadly cancer that results from asbestos exposure.

Weitz & Luxenberg gave Silver a cut of the fees it earned from the lucrative cases, which prosecutors said added up to about $3 million.

Silver got the names of mesothelioma patients from Robert Taub, a Columbia University researcher.

In return, Silver steered Taub’s research clinic $500,000 from New York taxpayers.

Under federal law, by taking the fees Silver deprived New Yorkers of his “honest services as an elected legislator and as Speaker of the Assembly.” He was also convicted of fraud.

Silver’s first conviction at trial in 2015 was vacated on appeal a year ago after the U.S. Supreme Court changed the way jurors are instructed about bribery in government corruption cases.

The ex-Assembly speaker’s second trial, held over two weeks in April and May, led a jury to convict him of all charges after one day of deliberation.

“When he assumed his powerful position at the top of New York State government, Sheldon Silver took an oath to do the work of the people. Instead, he leveraged his tremendous influence to pad his bank account and line his pockets,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said.

Silver reports to prison on Oct. 5. Caproni recommended he serve his time in the federal prison in Otisville, in Orange County, which has services for Orthodox Jewish inmates like Silver.

With Stephen Rex Brown

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