Juror in First Silver Trial Says He Was Pressured to Convict

Sheldon Silver at the federal courthouse in 2015.
Sheldon Silver at the federal courthouse in Lower Manhattan. November 2015.
Sheldon Silver at the federal courthouse in Lower Manhattan. November 2015.

The retrial of former Lower East Side Assemblyman Sheldon Silver on federal corruption charges is set to begin next week.

Silver was convicted in a $4 million bribery and kickback scheme in 2015, and sentenced to 12 years in prison. But an appeals court threw out the conviction last year, after the U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the definition of public corruption under federal law.  Silver has not served any jail time.

This past week, the Daily News spoke with a juror in the original case, who said he regretted his decision to convict Silver, the former assembly speaker. Kenneth Graham, a taxi driver from the Bronx, said, “When you are on a jury, sometimes you gotta do what the rest of them do… I think they should set him free.”

During deliberations, Graham asked to be removed from the jury, saying he’d recently learned that the owner of the medallion cab he drove was a close friend of Silver. The judge, Valerie Caproni, rejected his request. Graham told the News last week that other jurors pressured him into voting to convict, but they he would have held out if given a second chance.

In a separate story, the Wall Street Journal looks at the prospects of a successful prosecution of Silver in the second trial. It will be watched nationwide as a test case, indicating how much federal law has been weakened in public corruption cases.

Prosecutors say Silver funneled state grants to a cancer researcher who then sent patients to a law firm, which paid Silver referral fees. In another alleged scheme, Silver was accused of accepting bribes in exchange for enacting tax breaks that helped a Manhattan real estate firm.

The evidence was enough for the jury to find Silver guilty of quid-pro-quo arrangements. But in a 2016 ruling in a Virginia case, the high court said “official acts” by an elected official had to include specific use of government power, rather than acts that could be perceived as “constituent services.”  Silver and Dean Skelos, the former majority leader in the State Senate, were both convicted at around the same time. Both verdicts were later invalidated. The Journal speculated about what to expect the second time around:

“People are looking to the Silver and Skelos retrials to understand whether and when prosecutors can secure convictions in cases beyond paradigmatic bribery,” said Kelly Kramer, a defense attorney at firm Mayer Brown who isn’t involved in either case… Legal experts say the former lawmakers’ second trials will likely be similar in substance to the first ones. Retrials typically favor the prosecution, which carries the burden of proof, said Daniel R. Alonso, a former federal prosecutor and current managing director at compliance risk-consulting firm Exiger. “They will have seen which witnesses play well with the jury and which don’t,” he said.

Silver’s trial is set for April 16.