A major player in New York politics has met his demise in court.
Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was found guilty on all seven counts, including money laundering, honest services fraud and extortion. Silver now has to give up his Assembly seat, which he still held, in the state’s 65th District, sending state politics scrambling to define a new normal.
Silver, 71, was convicted of using his position in Albany for financial gain to the tune of $4 million. An example of this malfeasance came courtesy of the prosecutors, who said Silver directed funds to a Columbia-affiliated medical clinic in exchange for patient referrals to the law firm where Silver was employed. The law firm then paid him for the referrals.
According to prosecutors, another of Silver’s schemes involved pushing real estate development firms the Witkoff Group and Glenwood Management to direct tax business to the Goldberg & Iryami law firm, which paid Silver under-the-table fees in exchange for support of rent legislation backed by Glenwood.
Silver’s lawyers claimed that he’s being punished for conducting normal business in Albany and that although many may find the conduct distasteful, it’s not illegal. They vowed to appeal the ruling. Silver faces up to 20 years in prison.
Elected officials were quick to issue statements of condemnation and sadness about one of the state’s political big wigs being ushered out of the proverbial room. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo made a brief public statement about Silver’s conviction.
“Today, justice was served,” said Cuomo. “Corruption was discovered, investigated and prosecuted, and the jury has spoken. With the allegations proven, it is time for the Legislature to take seriously the need for reform.”
The governor concluded, “There will be zero tolerance for the violation of the public trust in New York.”
New York Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who took Silver’s place as speaker when Silver was indicted, said legislators in Albany are determined to clean up state politics.
“Words simply aren’t enough,” said Heastie in a statement. “We will continue to work to root out corruption and demand more of elected officials when it comes to ethical conduct. The Assembly majority remains committed to exploring ideas and implementing reforms to restore trust in our government.”
Heastie discussed accountability and transparency in Albany through initiatives such as the Assembly Office of Ethics and Compliance and the Joint Commission on Public Ethics as examples of Albany taking itself to task.
“It is our hope that, in time, the new measures we have recently put in place to strengthen ethics compliance will have a positive impact,” said Heastie.
This conviction marks yet another victory for U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, who kept his statement short and sweet after the ruling. “Today, Sheldon Silver got justice, and at long last, so did the people of New York,” he said.
Bharara promised to clean up state politics the minute he took over the U.S. Attorney position in 2009, and he’s worked on fulfilling his promise. He’s assisted in the indictment or conviction of 17 state legislators, including former New York Sen. Malcolm Smith, as well as former City Council Member Daniel Halloran.
New York City Public Advocate Letitia James said that Silver’s conviction should put corrupt legislators on notice. “But it must also be the beginning of a new chapter, in which public service triumphs over greed and in which fidelity to voters triumphs over addiction to power,” she said. “Our state leaders must use this day to finally put in place badly needed reforms so New Yorkers can have a state government they can be proud of.”
Whether things change in Albany is up to those in Albany. But earning back the people’s trust will be difficult. State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos is currently involved in a corruption trial of his own. When the 67-year-old Long Island Republican left his courtroom at the end of a court session, a reporter asked him to comment on Silver’s case.
“My case is what I’m focused on,” he said.
With Silver gone and another member of the “three men in a room” fighting for his political future, Albany legislators know that they have work to do. For now, the 65th District that covers mostly the Lower East Side doesn’t have a representative.