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Tarnished Assemblymember has day in court on corruption charges
BY LINCOLN ANDERSON AND DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | The federal corruption trial of Assemblymember Sheldon Silver got underway this week, with opening statements on Nov 3.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Cohen summed up what the proseduction says the case is all about: “Power. Greed. Corruption.”
But attorney Steven Molo, speaking in Silver’s defense, countered that the trial was really about friendship.
And he said that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and the other prosecutors just don’t like it when friends do nice things for each other.
“They don’t like the fact that friends might do favors for friends,” said Molo. “They look at conduct which is normal and legal and they say, ‘This is illegal.’”
Silver is accused of arranging quid pro quos with a Columbia University oncologist, Dr. Robert Taub, and realtors that netted him about $5 million in kickbacks.
On Wednesday, Taub, who has been hailed as the prosecution’s star witness, testified that he met Silver in the 1980s, and in the early 2000s he began referring mesothelioma patients to Silver, who then sent them to the law firm Weitz & Luxenberg.
Prosecutors say Silver earned $3 million for these referrals, while Taub got a total of $500,000 in research grants from the state Department of Health.
Silver has represented Lower Manhattan’s 65th Assembly District since 1976 and was the Assembly’s speaker for 20 years.
From his powerful post, Silver did many things for Downtown — including fighting for the community after 9/11 and opening much-needed schools with his school-overcrowding taskforce — earning loyalty from many constituents that remains undiminished even in the face of his arrest on corruption charges earlier this year.
At an April meeting of his school-overcrowding task force, he was greeted with applause.
Silver’s trial on changes of conspiracy, wire and mail fraud, and extortion is expected to last four to six weeks. The 71-year-old lawmaker faces up to 100 years in prison if convicted on all five counts.