Ex-NY Assembly speaker sentenced to 6 1/2 years for corruption

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BUFFALO, NY (WBFO) – Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was sentenced Monday to 6 1/2 years in prison in the corruption case that drove him from power as a judge said she hoped to “send a message to Albany.”

U.S. District Judge Valerie E. Caproni sentenced Silver, 76, for the third time, acknowledging that a man who was once one of the three most powerful state officials came closer than ever before to properly expressing remorse.

CREDIT WNYC / WXXI

But she said it remained unclear as to whether “he really gets it” and she shaved only six months off the seven-year prison sentence she announced in 2018, ignoring claims by Silver’s defense lawyer that he could die if he contracts COVID-19 in prison. She also fined him $1 million.

“This was corruption pure and simple,” Caproni said.

She said she hoped the sentence was “long enough to send a message to Albany,” though she added that the 17-22 years in prison called for by federal sentencing guidelines was “draconian.” Caproni said Silver must report to prison Aug. 26.

She described how Silver had changed his statements to her at each sentencing, going from an insistence that he did no harm at his first to a “self-pitying” approach at the second and finally to acknowledging his wrongful conduct this year.

Before Caproni announced the sentence, Silver stood and repeated parts of a handwritten letter he had written to the judge, though not the part in which he told her to spare him a sentence that might cause him to die in prison.

He said he had done a lot of good things over the decades as his power grew in state government, where he spent 21 years as Assembly speaker.

“I destroyed that legacy that I built over 35 years,” he said, blaming his downfall on “improper, selfish and ethically indefensible” behavior that grew from a sense of entitlement.

“I’m very sorry,” he said.

Last week, Caproni denied Silver’s request to be sentenced remotely because of the coronavirus. Masked spectators were kept apart in a large courtroom which they entered only after undergoing a temperature check and answering COVID-related questions at the courthouse entrance.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Richenthal urged Caproni to impose the same seven-year sentence she levied for bribery and extortion crimes before a federal appeals court ordered a new sentencing after tossing out three counts.

Silver was ousted as speaker in 2015 and convicted later that year, but appeals have so far kept him out of jail. His original conviction was overturned on appeal but Silver was convicted again in 2018.

In court papers, Silver’s lawyers had asked for leniency, saying Silver was an obese man in his 70s with a history of cancer, chronic kidney disease and other health problems that make him among those most at risk of dying from COVID-19.

Caproni, though, said the death rate of the population outside prison was approaching the death rate inside and it seemed that prisons were improving at adjusting to the threat of the illness.

“I do not want Mr. Silver to die in prison either,” she said.

In the part of the case that survived the appeal process, Silver was convicted in a scheme that involved favors and business traded between two real estate developers and a law firm. Silver supported legislation that benefited the developers. The developers then referred certain tax business to a law firm that paid Silver fees.