Appeals Court Overturns Part of Sheldon Silver’s Corruption Conviction

Sheldon Silver in happier times - at Chinatown's Lunar New Year Parade in 2012.

Sheldon Silver in happier times – at Chinatown’s Lunar New Year Parade in 2012.

A federal appeals court this week overturned part of Sheldon Silver’s conviction on public corruption charges, but he is still likely to go to prison.

The former Lower East Side assemblyman was sentenced in 2018 to seven years in prison for taking $4 million in illicit payments. Now the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has thrown out Silver’s conviction on charges that he traded political favors for legal referrals from a cancer researcher. The court, however, let stand his conviction on other charges related to a real estate scheme.

In the ruling, the judges explained that federal prosecutors failed to prove their case as specifically as the law requires: “Without a requirement that an official must promise to influence a particular question or matter… any official who accepts a thing of value and then later acts to the benefit of the donor, in any manner, could be vulnerable to criminal prosecution.”

The ruling from the appeals court means that Silver will need to be re-sentenced in U.S. District Court. He was first convicted in 2015, but appealed and won the right to a new trial. Silver also appealed after a second Manhattan jury found him guilty on corruption charges a couple of years ago. He has not served a day in prison so far.

According to prosecutors, Silver convinced the real estate firms, Glenwood Management and the Witkoff Group, to refer cases to Goldberg & Iryami, a law firm that handles real estate tax matters. Silver received referral fees. The feds said Silver then pushed through legislation beneficial to the real estate developers. The appeals court stated, there is “overwhelming evidence that Silver knowingly accepted referrals in exchange.”

The judges found that Silver had also chosen to abuse his power for personal gain in his dealings with the cancer researcher, Dr. Robert Taub. Silver pocketed legal fees after Taub referred patients to Silver’s law firm. Taub received state grants to fund his research. But some of the instances cited by prosecutors were too old to be legally relevant, according to the appeals court judges, and others were too insignificant to be considered a quid pro quo.