Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, once considered one of the state’s most powerful politicians, was convicted Monday of charges that he traded favors in exchange for $5 million and then lied about it.
The Manhattan federal court jury returned the verdict after a three-week trial in which prosecutors claimed that the 71-year-old Democrat repeatedly promised the favors to enrich himself. The defense countered that the government was trying to criminalize the longtime routines of politics in Albany.
Deliberations began with fireworks when a juror tried to beg off the panel less than two hours after talks started, accusing her fellow jurors of claiming she failed to use her common sense. But with instructions from Judge Valerie Caproni to respectfully exchange views, jurors settled down and resumed work.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Andrew Goldstein told jurors to reject the defense contention that Silver was just practicing politics as usual. “This was bribery. This was extortion. This was corruption,” Goldstein said.
Defense attorney Steven Molo said his client fought the bribery and extortion charges because he knew he was not guilty.
“He knows he did not commit a crime,” Molo said. “There was no quid quo pro. He did not sell his office.”
After the verdict, Manhattan U.S. Atty. Preet Bharara said, “Today, Sheldon Silver got justice, and at long last, so did the people of New York.”
Prosecutors said Silver delivered tax-abatement and rent-control legislation that favored developers while some of New York’s biggest developers hired a small law firm that secretly sent $700,000 in fees to the then-speaker.
Silver, who gave up his speaker position but retained his assembly seat after his January arrest, has been on trial simultaneously with state Sen. Dean Skelos and his son on charges that the Republican badgered companies to give his son more than $300,000 in exchange for his political support.
In all, more than 30 New York state lawmakers have left office facing criminal charges or allegations of ethical misconduct since 2000.
In the last five years, a lawmaker was convicted of taking bribes from a carnival promoter, another filed thousands of dollars in expense claims for days he never even went to Albany. A third got a sham marriage in order to become a citizen, and a fourth was accused of harassing female staffers and forcing one to touch cancerous tumors on his neck and armpit.