Former Lower East Assemblyman Sheldon Silver was sentenced this afternoon to 12 years in prison for federal corruption crimes.
He will also be required to forfeit more than $5 million collected in two kickback schemes and pay a $1.75 million fine. Judge Valerie Caproni said the former speaker of the New York State Assembly must report to prison by July 1. It’s possible Mr. Silver’s term could be delayed while appeals are heard.
Silver was found guilty Nov. 30 on charges that included honest services fraud, money laundering and extortion. At that time, he was forced to relinquish the seat he’d held in the assembly for almost 40 years. Just yesterday, Alice Cancel was sworn in as Silver’s replacement after winning a special election last month.
The judge today acknowledged Silver’s good works as a legislator but also said he’d caused “incalculable harm to the people of New York.” Caproni said she was imposing a tough sentence to send a message to other corrupt politicians who seem not to realize that a crooked government “makes the public very cynical.”
Following the sentencing, Silver exited the court building on Foley Square through a side door. He was met by a crush of reporters and photographers. The former lawmaker finally made his way to a waiting taxi cab, which took him away from the courthouse.
UPDATE 4:44 p.m. It was an insane scene outside court. While cameras swarmed around Silver and his attorneys, the mob slowly moved out to Centre Street, where news crews were pushing and shoving to get a clear shot. Silver finally made his way to a cab, but it was also surrounded. Finally, with the help of court officers, a path was cleared and the car made its way up Centre to Worth Street.
UPDATE 5:06 p.m. More details from the sentencing hearing.
Defense attorney Joel Cohen asked the judge to forego a prison sentence, opting for community service and house arrest. “He is already crushed,” said Cohen. “He’s been devastated by everything that occurred over the last year and a half,” added Silver’s longtime lawyer. “His obituary has already been written.” Referencing more than 100 letters written to the judge on behalf of their client, Steven Molo, another defense attorney, called for a sentence that “tempers justice with mercy.” Molo said Silver showed great compassion in helping his constituents deal with crises big and small, including 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy.
Immediately before the sentencing, Silver stood before the judge and offered a short statement. He said, “Without question, I’ve let down my family, I’ve let down my colleagues, I’ve let down my constituents, and I am truly, truly sorry for that.”
Prosecutors expressed indignation regarding a letter Silver wrote to the judge before today’s hearing. Assistant U.S. Attorney Howard Master called it a “remarkable document,” an apology letter that offered no admission of guilt. Instead of arguing at trial that the federal government was engaging in a campaign of character assassination, said Master, Silver could have admitted that he was to blame for his predicament. Another prosecutor, Carrie Cohen, said the sentence should send a message that “no one, including Sheldon Silver, is above the law.”
Judge Caproni said she carefully considered “all of the very kind letters” from people pleading for leniency. She called Silver an unusually gifted politician who “went beyond the call of duty” for his constituents. The judge also took into account that Silver is a 72-year-old man who was diagnosed with prostate cancer (the disease is currently in remission).
At the same time, however, Caproni said she concluded during the course of the trial that “New York State suffered tangible harm” from the former assembly speaker’s actions over many years. Evidence was presented that Silver consulted Glenwood Management, one of the firms implicated in the kickback scandal, before signing off on a new rent regulation law. “I’m confident that smaller firms would have loved that same opportunity,” said the judge, noting that Glenwood was funneling large sums of money to the powerful legislator. “Silver’s corruption cast a shadow over everything he has done,” she said.
The judge said her task was to decide whether Silver was a basically decent man who had simply gone astray, or whether he was fundamentally corrupt. In the end, she concluded that he was confronted on many occasions with the opportunity to “make things right,” yet he didn’t change his behavior. “I hope the sentence I impose on you will make other politicians think twice, until their better angels take over,” said Caproni. “Or, if there are no better angels, perhaps the fear of living out one’s golden years in an orange jumpsuit will keep them on the straight and narrow.”
Silver’s lawyers have requested that he serve at the Federal Correctional Institution in Otisville, N.Y., which has experience with Orthodox Jewish prisoners. Outside the courthouse today, Silver was asked about an appeal and said, “I believe in the justice system, and we will pursue all remedies that are available.”
Following the sentencing, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara released a statement that read, the “stiff sentence is a just and fitting end to Sheldon Silver’s long career of corruption.”
UPDATE 8:44 p.m. Here’s video from the New York Times outside the courthouse: