Receiving millions of dollars in kickbacks and bribes, former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was sentenced Tuesday to 12 years in prison. Although federal sentencing guidelines suggest up to 27 years, U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni refused to impose the “draconian and unjust” sentence due to the 72-year-old corrupt politician’s age.
Elected to the New York State Assembly in 1976, Silver has been Speaker since February 11, 1994. By soliciting and obtaining client referrals worth millions of dollars in exchange for official favors, Silver abused his power over the real estate industry and healthcare funding. Instead of reporting the bribes, Silver attempted to disguise the money as legitimate income earned from his work at the two law firms accused of laundering his kickbacks.
For steering real estate developers with business before the state legislature to a law firm run by a co-conspirator, Silver received approximately $700,000 in kickbacks. Although Silver had performed no legal work to earn those payments, the law firm Goldberg & Iryami received millions of dollars in legal fees from real estate developers, Glenwood Management and the Witkoff Group. Goldberg & Iryami reportedly paid Silver to use his official power and influence to refer potential clients to their firm.
In a separate scheme, Silver awarded $500,000 in state grants to the university research center of a physician who referred asbestos patients to the personal injury law firm where Silver has worked for over a decade. After receiving $500,000 in state grants, the Director of Columbia University’s Mesothelioma Center, Dr. Richard Taub, referred possible asbestos victims to Silver’s other law firm, Weitz & Luxenberg. Acquiring the majority of its revenue from asbestos litigation, Weitz & Luxenberg ended up paying Silver more than $3 million for the referrals and $1.4 million in salary even though he did not perform legal work for the law firm.
Arrested in January 2015, Silver was later convicted of all seven counts, including honest services fraud, money laundering, and extortion, on November 30, 2015. Although Silver faced up to 130 years behind bars, federal sentencing guidelines only suggest a range from 22 to 27 years in prison.
“Without question, I let down my constituents, I let down my family, let down my colleagues, and I’m truly, truly sorry for that,” Silver told Judge Caproni before his sentencing.
“I hope the sentence I impose on you will make other politicians think twice, until their better angels take over,” stated Caproni. “Or, if there are no better angels, perhaps the fear of living out ones golden years in an orange jumpsuit will keep them on the straight and narrow.”
In addition to his 12-year prison sentence, Silver has been ordered to forfeit more than $5 million in kickbacks and bribes that he received and pay a $1.75 million fine. Silver must surrender himself by noon on July 1 to begin his serving his sentence.
Convicted of public corruption charges, including bribery, conspiracy, and extortion, former New York State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos is scheduled to be sentenced on May 12. Convicted of obstruction of justice and making false statements to investigators, former New York State Sen. John Sampson is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court on May 19.