Sheldon Silver

In Letter, Silver Apologizes To Court

A contrite Sheldon Silver in a letter filed in federal court this week apologized as he is scheduled to be sentenced next month in his federal corruption conviction.

Silver, the ex-Assembly speaker and formerly one of the most powerful elected officials in New York, was convicted in November of fraud and extortion charges.

As federal prosecutors seek a record stretch in prison for any former elected official of more than 14 years in prison for the 72-year-old Silver, the Manhattan Democrat in a letter to U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Caproni urged leniency and asked her to keep in mind the good public acts he has done.

“I failed the people of New York,” Silver wrote in the letter. “There is no question about it.”

Silver also took responsibility for the poor image voters and the general public has of state government because of him.

“Because of me, the government has been ridiculed,” he said.

“As I will continue to do every day, I apologize to the Court, the people of the State of New York (particularly my constituents and former colleagues), and most of all my loving family that has stood besides me always.”

Silver Letter by Nick Reisman

Prosecutors Seek More Than A Decade For Silver

Federal prosecutors are calling for ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to be sentenced to time in prison longer than any other political figure in recent history.

Court filings by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office made public on Wednesday called for Silver to be sentenced “substantially in excess” of 10 years in prison.

“Silver exploited the vast political power entrusted in him by the public to serve himself,” the sentencing memorandum from prosecutors reads. “He preyed on others’ dependence on him for favorable official action, and used the cover of his law license to secretly steer to himself millions of dollars worth of business that he knew nothing about and could not (and did not) perform, in exchange for official action that only he could provide. There is no excuse or mitigating factor tempering the seriousness of Silver’s crimes, which were motivated by greed and accomplished through exploitation of his enormous power and his willingness to lie and deceive at every turn.”

Silver was found guilty in November of using his office to secure bribes that he masked legal referrals and was ultimately convicted on fraud and extortion charges. He is scheduled to be sentenced on May 3.

Silver turned 72 in February.

The longtime speaker of the Assembly, Silver was removed from the post after his arrest on corruption charges, but remained in the chamber pending the outcome of his trial. The guilty verdict on felony corruption charges triggered his removal from office.

In the sentencing memo, the prosecutors argue Silver’s crimes show there is a need to, in essence, make an example out of him.

“Silver’s conduct here provides a powerful reminder of the dire need for greater deterrence,” he said. “Silver persisted in corrupting his official position even after he watched numerous of his legislative colleagues brought down by criminal charges.”

Along with the memo, prosecutors filed a chart showing various elected officials and other figures from New York and elsewhere who have been convicted of corruption and the time they were sentenced to. Assemblyman William Boyland currently holds the record, serving 14 years.

In addition to the long prison sentence, prosecutors want Silver to pay a $5.1 million forfeiture penalty — termed “crime proceeds” — as well as a $1 million fine.

Silver’s defense counsel called for the forfeiture penalty to be “reduced by the amount of taxes Mr. Silver paid on his allegedly unlawful gains as described above.”

Govt Sentencing 4-20 Silver by Nick Reisman

Silver memo 4-20-1 by Nick Reisman

Former Speaker Silver Disbarred

Less than a month before he is sentenced following his November corruption conviction, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has been disbarred, court filings released Tuesday show.

Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, was found guilty late last year of fraud and extortion after he was accused of masking bribes as legal referrals in exchange for official actions he took as the top lawmaker in the state Assembly.

Silver’s extortion conviction automatically triggers disbarment, a five-judge panel determined in a ruling.

Silver had initially sought to delay the disbarment proceedings pending judgment acquittal and efforts to obtain a new trial, but was denied.

Silver is scheduled to be sentenced on April 13.

Republican former Senate Majority Dean Skelos, who was convicted in a separate corruption trial in December, is scheduled to be sentenced on April 25.

The Real Reason There May Be No Special Election on April 19

Vacancies, vacancies, vacancies. Every year it feels like there are a bunch of open seats in the Legislature, and so begins the long dance over when (or if) to call a special election. This year there are two quite notable open seats: Those once held by Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver.

Last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo suggested that he would call a special election on April 19, which would line up local races with New York’s presidential primary. He hasn’t officially done so yet, and he has until early February to make a final decision. That gives the governor some leeway, although not a ton.

Some had suggested that Democrats on Long Island had asked him to hold off. They have selected Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky as their candidate to run for the Skelos seat, and as Jimmy Vielkind astutely pointed out, Democrats have fretted that a fluid national Republican Primary could boost Republican turnout on Strong Island.

But here is another reason I was recently told April may not work. According to a source, the New York City Board of Elections simply cannot handle it. Apparently, there are separate computer programs for local races and national races, and holding them simultaneously that day would be too much for the board. I mean, let’s face it, competence was never their strong suit. Silver’s seat is in lower Manhattan, so the NYC Board would be in charge of holding the election for the Silver seat that day.

That leaves two other possibilities.

1) Cuomo could call the special to line up with that new, weird congressional primary day that takes place in June. June 28th is the day this year.

2) Cuomo could push it to Sept. 7th, which is the day of the state primaries. Whichever date is picked will greatly affect the race for Silver’s seat. Yesterday, Manhattan Democratic leaders had been scheduled to meet to discuss who they might endorse for the seat, but the meeting was cancelled due to all the uncertainty surrounding the date of the election. If the April 19 date were to work, then the local Democratic committee in the financial district would choose who gets the seat. In that case, New York County leaders would likely get involved.

Full disclosure before I go any further: I actually live in Lower Manhattan so this race is my district. So, not only did I have the privilege of covering Shelly Silver, he was also my assemblyman, and I should say that I found him very responsive to my constituent needs. (I’m just kidding about the last part).

So far there are at least three candidates who are looking to run for the seat – Jenifer Rajkumar, a Democratic district leader; Paul Newell, who is also a Democratic district leader and has the distinction of losing to Silver in a 2008 primary – the first the then-speaker had faced in two decades; and Yuh-Line Niou who is chief of staff to Assemblyman Ron Kim.

According to one insider, Rajkumar and Newell seem to be splitting the vote, since they are trying to lock up committee support from the same committee they both represent as district leaders. Also, some Chinatown leaders don’t like Rajkumar because she ran against NYC Councilwoman Margaret Chin. Niou seems to be getting much of that critical Chinatown political support, even though she doesn’t live there. She actually lives in a more fancy shmancy part of the district further downtown.

If the election is held in June, it will also be a committee selection, but if it’s pushed to September there would be an open primary. There will actually be a primary regardless, so even if a candidate is chosen, he or she would still potentially have to fight off challengers in September. Obviously, if someone is already sitting in that seat they have the advantages of incumbency going into that primary. So, now it really comes down to which date will be selected.

ted knight

Damage Control (Updated)

An astute reader forwarded this photo of a full-page ad that appeared in today’s New York Times, courtesy of Weitz & Luxenberg.

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That’s the Manhattan law firm perhaps best known (in political circles, anyway) for its key role in the corruption scandal of now former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and in legal circles for representing clients suffering from mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer.

Weitz & Luxenberg, as you’ll recall, for many years employed Silver on an “of counsel” basis – a situation that basically consisted of him acting like a rainmaker for the firm, directing clients there and never actually practicing any law on their behalf.

Central to US Attorney Preet Bharara’s successful case against Silver was a bribery scheme in which the former speaker directed state grants to a Columbia University oncologist who specialized in mesothelioma research in exchange for the doctor directing his patients to Weitz & Luxenberg, netting Silver lucrative legal fees.

Silver did report his outside income from Weitz & Luxenberg, though it was never completely clear exactly how much he earned from the firm and what – if anything – he actually did there. The firm severed ties with the former assemblyman after he was arrested on corruption charges by Bharara.

According to the New York Post, Weitz & Luxenberg has seen a significant drop in new cases since Silver’s arrest last January. Citing court records, the paper reported that the firm has filed only 218 lawsuits in Manhattan Supreme Court’s New York City Asbestos Litigation division this year, compared with 262 in 2014. It also marked only 70 cases as “ready for trial” in 2015, compared with 128 in 2014 and 158 in 2013.

UPDATE: To be clear, Bharara’s complaint against Silver did not allege any wrongdoing by Weitz & Luxenberg, and the subsequent trial revealed that the firm had no knowledge of the former assemblyman’s illegal doings, nor was it complicit in them.

Kolb: Progress, Not Change In Silver-to-Heastie Switch

The change in leadership in the Assembly following Sheldon Silver’s ouster due to a federal corruption scandal hasn’t resulted in significant change, according to the chamber’s leading Republican.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb said during an interview on AM970’s “Effective Radio with Bill Samuels” this weekend that the “only difference” between Silver and his successor, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, is that Heastie “is paying more attention to his rank-and-file membership.”

Kolb noted that it was unrest among the rank-and-file that led to a failed coup attempt on Silver by former Syracuse-area Assemblyman Michael Bragman in 2000 – the same year Heastie was elected to represent his Bronx district in Albany.

“I think what Carl is saying (is), ‘I’m going to be more attentive to my members so they’ll be happier so I won’t have any insurrections internally,” Kolb told Samuels. “And that’s what he’s doing differently than Shelly.”

During this past session, Heastie, who took over for Silver in early February, made a big effort to listen to and empower his Democratic conference members – even when that meant drawing out negotiations with the governor and the Senate.

The new speaker pledged to change the way the chamber does business to give more clout to rank-and-file members, and he appointed a 12-member working group in April to address the issue.

But Kolb and his fellow Republicans have been largely disappointed by the ongoing lack of parity they have experienced in the chamber under Heastie, though the minority leader did admit the speaker this year allocated capital infrastructure cash to his GOP conference – something Silver “never did.”

The Republicans got $4.4 million to split, Kolb said, while some members – including Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle, a Rochester Democrat who battled Heastie for the speakership – received many times more than that for just a single project.

“That’s not change, that’s progress,” Kolb said. “That’s not even fair, and that happens with both majorities in both houses.”

“And that’s sort of where the financial abuse is – not that we shouldn’t have discretionary money to help our districts – but it should be out in the open,” the minority leader continued. “There should be parity, so that no one is getting a political advantage – Republican or Democrat.”

Supporters of Alix’s Law Optimistic In A ‘Post-Silver’ Assembly

With a new leader in the State Assembly there’s new optimism a few proposed laws that have been blocked will finally make it to the floor for a vote this legislative session.  One piece of legislation would eliminate a loophole in the state’s hit-and-run law.

It’s called Alix’s law, after Western New York teenager Alix Rice who was hit and killed by a drunk driver in 2011.  After four years of waiting, Rice’s father told Time Warner Cable News Reporter Ryan Whalen he has high hopes under new Speaker Carl Heastie

“Our new Speaker has a golden opportunity at this time to put a positive stamp on his leadership of this Assembly,” said Richard Rice.

Under the proposed law, drivers would not be able to argue they were unaware they hit a person or caused damage to property, if they were drunk.  The man who hit and killed Alix Rice was convicted of a misdemeanor, but avoided conviction on the more serious charges he faced.

Rice believes former Speaker Sheldon Silver was only thing standing in the way of the bill that was passed again this year in the State Senate.

“When I talked to him about it he said it was just too controversial to introduce to the Assembly,” Rice said.

The bill has another thing going for it, it’s sponsored in the Assembly by Buffalo’s Crystal Peoples-Stokes.  Stokes is a strong ally of Speaker Heastie and hasn’t been shy about exercising her new found influence.

Much like the new found optimism surrounding the Mixed Martial Arts legislation, in a “post-Silver Assembly,” Rice feels the bill is closer to becoming law than it’s ever been.  Still he’s keeping his fingers crossed.

“It will give me a feeling that she did something great for the world even though it wasn’t really by choice,” Rice added.

Who Blinks First?

Today is March 4. Gov. Andrew Cuomo released his 30-day budget amendments, which jammed the Legislature by stuffing ever more policy (particularly ethics reforms) into appropriations bills, on Feb. 21 – almost two weeks ago.

So far, neither the Senate nor the Assembly has introduced Cuomo’s amendments – a move required before they can be formally considered by state lawmakers.

As Newsday’s Mike Gormley reported, the Assembly issued a statement Sunday night pledging to get the introduction process started, but gave no timeline for doing so. And, as of last night, the chamber still had yet to take action.

In a statement given to Gormley over the weekend and re-issued to me last night, Mike Whyland, spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, said the amendments would “of course” be printed “because the Constitution requires us to act on them as submitted.”

“We are reviewing them with members,” Whyland continued, “and we continue to negotiate in good faith on all of the issues – including the ethics reform package. We will be meeting with the governor to further discuss the budget this week.”

Sources familiar with the Senate Republicans’ thinking say they are holding back on introductions because they’re reviewing “all options” in response to the governor’s hardball budget tactics – including a possible lawsuit revisiting the landmark 2004 Court of Appeals decision on the division of budget power between the executive and legislative branches.

That decision is commonly referred to in Albany as “Silver v. Pataki,” and it’s actually the result of two separate cases brought against then-Gov. George Pataki by the Assembly, which believed he was overstepping his executive powers by inserting policy into appropriations bills, over which the Legislature has very little control.

I wrote about this issue for Capital NY a few weeks back, speaking to a number of key players in the Silver v. Pataki cases – including former Judge Robert Smith, who wrote the plurality opinion under which the Capitol is currently operating.

Most legal experts and Capitol observers agree the decision is ripe for revisitation, especially since the judges determined there is indeed a line over which the governor might step when it comes to using the budget as a policy-making vehicle. The trouble is, the court declined to define where that line is.

Most agree that the governor’s insertion of ethics reform – specifically tying per diem changes and disclosure requirements to the state comptroller’s budget – is a stretch of even the limited boundaries defined in Silver v. Pataki.

Just today, Daily News columnist Bill Hammond wrote of the “dangerous precedent” being set by Cuomo’s use of his sweeping budgetary authority, raising concerns that future governors could “easily” abuse this power.

The problem is, challenging the governor’s ethics reform push in court would be terrible for the Legislature from an optics standpoint.

The scandal-weary public is highly unlikely to understand the esoteric argument about restoring a balance of power in Albany – especially when that involves giving more of a say to the Legislature, of which most New Yorkers don’t have the highest opinion these days.

Cuomo is well aware of this, and he also believes he’s on sound legal footing, having consulted with a number of attorneys – including Pataki’s former counsel, Jim McGuire, who is widely acknowledged as the architect behind the then-governor’s winning strategy in Pataki v. Silver.

The Assembly is no happier than the Senate with Cuomo’s budget bullying, but seems a bit less anxious to challenge his authority here – perhaps due to the fact that it is still reeling from the change in leadership and trying to get its sea legs under the new speaker, Carl Heastie.

Generally speaking, lawmakers are trying to determine whether it’s worth going to war with Cuomo now, or waiting to see if he’s really serious about being willing to risk a late budget – and a government shutdown – to get what he wants in ethics reform.

In the past, Cuomo has been willing to make deals, calling half a loaf a victory. But if he deviates from his track record this time and refuses to submit new, re-negotiated budget bills before the April 1 deadline, the Legislature could be in trouble.

Silver Enters Not Guilty Plea, Seeks To Toss Case

Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on Tuesday entered a not guilty plea following his indictment on three counts of fraud and extortion.

Silver’s attorney, meanwhile, sought to have a federal judge toss prosecutor’s case from court based on U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s “improper” comments on public corruption following Silver’s arrest in January.

Silver is accused of receiving $3.8 million in bribes and kickbacks that he masked as legal referrals from a doctor who was conducting research into asbestos exposure as well as real-estate interests.

“I will only say to you that once this process is over I will be vindicated, I am not guilty,” Silver outside of court.

Silver stepped down from the speaker’s post last month and was replaced by Bronx Democrat Carl Heastie. He retains his seat in the Legislature representing Lower Manhattan.

A trial is expected to begin as early as June.

Silver’s arrest ignited yet another push to enact ethics legislation at the Capitol, with lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo negotiating new laws that would regulate how outside income is disclosed.

Tonko Recalls ‘Honorable’ Interactions With Silver

From today’s Morning Memo, ICYMI…

Since former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s arrest, any number of people – even some of his former allies – have expressed shock and even disgust at the charges levied against him by Bharara.

But one of his former conference members – ex-Assemblyman-turned-Congressman Paul Tonko – has only good memories of his time working in the Silver-dominated chamber. Tonko said during a CapTon interview Wednesday night (the day before Silver was formally indicted on corruption charges) that the interactions he had with the former speaker were “honorable.”

The former assemblyman also took issue with rank-and-file members’ complaints that Silver was too controlling and ruled the chamber with an iron fist.

“I was surprised by the allegations,” Tonko said. “I know that as Energy (Committee) chair, I was given gray latitude and support by the speaker to initiative energy reforms that I think have transitioned us to a pretty good spot in the national scene. This state is looked to often times for sound energy reform and transformation, innovation. That happened because he enabled us. He delegated.”

Tonko said he disagrees with Bharara’s painting of Albany as a big cesspool of corruption, saying:

“It’s a broad brush that is paining everyone here. I served with a number of people who were devoted public servants, who made this their No. 1 priority, and they did it squeaky clean. They were great to work with, and I would suggest that was the majority of folks.”

“…If some of these situations occur, let’s work on a system that provides for the transparency,” the Capital Region Democrat continued. “But to just suggest that everybody is not honorable in the system can take us into such broad interpretation of the fix that’s rehired that you might scare away from very good minds and heats that would serve the public well.”