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BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC
Sheldon Silver, longtime assemblymember for Lower Manhattan, was found guilty on Monday of all seven counts in his federal corruption trial.
It took the jury less than three days of deliberations to find the former assembly speaker guilty of extortion and fraud. Silver faces 130 years in prison.
“Today, Sheldon Silver got justice, and at long last, so did the people of New York,” said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who brought the charges against Silver in January, in a statement shortly after the verdict.
During the trial, two sides of Silver, 71, were presented. The defense said Silver was a pro-tenant advocate who was doing favors for friends,who wanted his good will. The prosecution said he was in the pocket of real estate developers and he used his office to make millions of dollars for himself.
The Lower East Side Democrat, once one of the most three powerful men in the state, has represented the 65th Assembly District for 39 years and was assembly speaker for 20 years. He stepped down from his leadership position shortly after his indictment in January, and will have to give up his seat now that he has been convicted.
The case had hinged on determining an explicit quid pro quo: doing something to get something in return.
“Sheldon Silver is anything but honest,” said Andrew Goldstein, assistant U.S. attorney, during his closing remarks on Mon., Nov. 23. He said Silver had been “cheating, lying, getting away with it” for years, abusing his position for more than a decade.
The government had divided the case into two schemes: legal referrals for asbestos and real estate cases.
In the asbestos scheme, Dr. Robert Taub of Columbia University referred mesothelioma patients to law firm Weitz & Luxenberg, which then doled out referral fees to Silver to the tune of $3 million. Silver then gave his support to two state Dept. of Health grants totaling $500,000 for Taub’s research, according to prosecutors.
The defense countered the state health officials was simply doing a good thing by supporting Taub’s research, and that Taub stated in court there was no explicit quid pro quo.
“It took two to tango and there was no dance of corruption with Dr. Taub,” said Steven Molo, one of Silver’s defense attorneys, who presented the closing summation.
Molo also used what the prosecution termed the “friendship defense:” Taub and Silver were friends and that’s why he helped the doctor out.
“That defense is absurd,” Goldstein said.
Goldstein said the two men barely knew each other and when Taub threw a 400-person wedding for his daughter, Silver was not on the guest list.
In the real estate scheme, prosecutors said Silver requested major developers Glenwood Management and the Witkoff Group move their business to the small firm of Goldberg & Iryami for property tax work.
Glenwood hired the firm in 1997 while the Witkoff Group did so in 2005, according to prosecutors.
The law firm then cut checks to Silver for referrals for the developers’ new business, totaling $700,000.
The developers wanted a tax break, called 421-a, to be renewed in Albany, and each time that happened, additional work went to Goldberg & Iryami, said Goldstein. The tax abatement was extended in 2003, 2007 and 2011. In 2003, there were two properties with Goldberg. That jumped to six in 2007, 16 in 2008 to 22 properties in 2012, according to the prosecution.
“Glenwood is rewarding Sheldon Silver every time they get what they want,” Goldstein said. “This was a scam orchestrated by the Speaker of the Assembly.”
Molo said that because New York state has a citizen legislature that is only in session for six months a year, its members are allowed to work. He acknowledged that this could lead to “some form of conflict,” but he insisted, no crime had been committed.
“Did Mr. Silver sell his office? No,” said Molo, who repeatedly said the prosecution had “a theory looking for a case.”
Goldstein called Silver’s “politics as usual” defense “outrageous.”
On Monday, the he jury agreed.