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Former Assembly speaker convicted of all charges in corruption trial

Matt Ryan
New York Now File Photo

Sheldon Silver has been found guilty on all counts in a federal corruption trial. Silver was found guilty of operating several corrupt schemes in which he essentially monetized his powerful position as leader of the Assembly to illegally gain over $4 million. 

Some came through referral fees for a class action asbestos lawsuit, for which the former Assembly speaker did no work. In exchange, a doctor who saw patents with asbestos related illnesses got state funded research grants.

Other schemes involved kick backs from a legal firm specializing in tax law, and favors to the real estate industry in the form of favorable tax laws.  The former speaker was found guilty of extortion and money laundering, among other charges, and faces up to 20 years in prison.  

Silver, who proclaimed his innocence throughout the trial,  did not mount a formal defense to the charges. His attorneys said that what the speaker had done was simply business as usual.

Susan Lerner, with the government reform group Common Cause New York, says that attitude shows how out of touch politicians in Albany are.

“Albany insiders have lost touch with reality,” Lerner said. “The jury didn’t buy the explanation that self dealing and back scratching are just business as usual.  And that’s not really surprising.”

Other groups are calling for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to hold a special session in December to focus on passing new anti corruption laws. Blair Horner, with the New York Public Interest Research Group, calls the verdict a “political earthquake.”

“So far the governor and the legislative leadership have had their heads in the sand ,hoping this would go away,” said Horner. “The governor must call a special session on ethics to begin the process of cleaning up Albany.”

Both Horner and Lerner believe that there should be strict limits or even an outright ban on lawmakers earning outside income other than their legislative salaries.  

Silver’s counterpart, the former Leader of the state Senate, is also on trial for corruption charges that have to do with his outside income.  Sen. Dean Skelos is also accused of using his influence to gain no show jobs for his son.  His son Adam Skelos is also facing charges.

The leaders who replaced Silver and Skelos have voluntarily foregone taking any outside pay.  

Silver  is now automatically expelled from the Assembly.  His official Assembly district website has already been wiped clean.

It’s up to Cuomo to call a special election to replace the former speaker. In a statement, Cuomo said "With the allegations proven, it is time for the Legislature to take seriously the need for reform. There will be zero tolerance for the violation of the public trust in New York."

Silver’s successor, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, said in a statement that he is “deeply saddened” by Silver’s conviction, and vowed to “root out corruption."

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.