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New Hope For Sheldon Silver Appeal After Today’s Supreme Court Ruling

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Sheldon Silver at the federal courthouse on Foley Square.
Sheldon Silver at the federal courthouse on Foley Square during his trial last year.

Some potential good news for former Lower East Side assemblyman Sheldon Silver. A ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court could lead to a successful appeal of his conviction last year on federal corruption charges.

This morning, the justices issued a unanimous ruling — vacating the conviction of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. He was found guilty last year of extortion and fraud for accepting more than $175,000 in loans and gifts from a Virginia business executive. The appeal zeroed in on the definition of an “official act” by a government official.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “Our concern is not with tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes and ball gowns. It is instead with the broader legal implications of the government’s boundless interpretation of the federal bribery statute. A more limited interpretation of the term ‘official act’ leaves ample room for prosecuting corruption, while comporting with the text of the statute and the precedent of this court.” In the McDonnell case, prosecutors must decide whether to retry McDonnell using the stricter standard.

In May, Silver was sentenced to 12 years in prison after being convicted of accepting $4 million in bribes and kickbacks in two separate schemes. The judge in his case postponed a decision whether to allow Silver to stay out of prison during his appeal. She cited the pending Supreme Court case in delaying a ruling.

James Margolin, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, said Silver’s conviction is not imperiled by today’s high court decision. “While we are reviewing the McDonnell decision,” he said, “the official actions that led to the convictions of Sheldon Silver and (Former Senate Majority Leader) Dean Skelos fall squarely within the definition set forth by the Supreme Court today.”

One of Silver’s attorneys told NY1, “The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision today in the McDonnell case makes clear that federal government has gone too far in prosecuting state officials for conduct that is part of the everyday functioning of those in elected office. The McDonnell decision will be central to Mr. Silver’s appeal.”

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