Prosecutors, Defense Lawyers Battle Over Evidence in Sheldon Silver Trial

Sheldon Silver last summer on the Lower East Side.

Sheldon Silver at National Night Out festivities on the Lower East Side in August.
Sheldon Silver at National Night Out festivities on the Lower East Side in August.

The federal corruption trial of Lower East Side Assemblyman Sheldon Silver is set to begin in November. In recent weeks, lawyers on both sides have been skirmishing over what evidence the U.S. Attorney will be allowed to present before the jury. Here’s a recap of recent developments.

On Friday, Judge Valerie Caproni ruled that prosecutors may present evidence that Silver intervened on behalf of a developer to block a meth clinic from opening in the Financial District in 2011. Prosecutors allege the former Assembly speaker was paid $4 million in bribes, disguised as referral fees, by two law firms. They will argue at trial that Silver directed the developer, Glenwood Management, to one of those law firms. The feds did not include the allegations in the original indictment on charges of “honest services fraud” and “extortion under color of official right.” Silver’s attorneys contend that his advocacy against the clinic fell into the category of routine “constituent services.”

Caproni also agreed that prosecutors can use 2009 personal financial disclosure forms to show evidence of “corrupt intent.” That year, he did not note on the forms legal fees received from Goldberg & Iryami, a real estate tax firm. Silver’s legal team argued that he filled out the forms to the best of his ability and sought out guidance about the matter. More from Legal360, which covered the Friday hearing:

As the sides hashed out that particular dispute, Silver could be heard pointing out how he attempted to comply with the intricate forms. He also could be heard rejecting the notion that changes to the way he filled out the forms were tied to charges lodged against former State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno. “The disclosure was due,” Silver told his team. “In May it was due.” This prompted Judge Caproni to warn Silver that he ought to be letting his lawyers do the talking. “I can sort of hear you. The government can hear you better. Be aware,” she said. She later cautioned him again only to speak to counsel in hushed tones.

The judge did seems to agree with defense lawyers that prosecutors can’t use examples of other Albany lawmakers who have faced corruption allegations when discussing public statements Silver made in the past about the disclosure forms. Caproni has not yet decided whether the feds can mention campaign donations from Glenwood, which amounted to about $200,000.

Last week, Silver indicated he has no intention of cutting a deal before the trial begins. He told Politico New York: “We’re ready. We will be ready, and I believe in court, we will be successful.” When asked directly whether he would take a plea deal, the assemblyman said, “No.”

Prosecutors have estimated it will take them about a month to present their case. Silver stepped down as speaker after his arrest but continues to serve as Lower Manhattan assemblyman.