NEW YORK (NEWS10) – Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was found guilty of federal corruption charges in a Manhattan court on Monday.
Silver was accused of illegally earning $5 million through kickbacks and bribes. The longtime lawmaker maintained his innocence. Lawyers for the 71-year-old democrat said his actions were normal for politicians in Albany.
Prosecutors, however, maintained that Silver was guilty of bribery and extortion. They said he secured more than $3 million in referral fees from personal injury claims and made millions more from real estate developers and shady investments.
A jury found him guilty of all seven counts on Monday.
In January, Silver stepped down from his post as Assembly speaker but retained his assembly seat. Upon his conviction, Silver was automatically expelled from his assembly position.
Silver held the Speaker position for more than 20 years. He was a member of the assembly for twice as long.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle said Silver’s conviction shines light on a bigger picture, including Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s efforts to change the state’s government by creating a more open and transparent process.
Republican assemblymember Steve McLaughlin said the guilty verdict shows the “three men in a room” process is causing a problem.
“The fact that there is that much power concentrated in the hands of three people is a real problem,” he said. “So we need to open up that process to a lot more people being involved in budget negotiations.”
“When you betray the public trust, when you govern for personal profit, there’s a penalty to be paid,” Democratic assemblymember John McDonald said. “I think his defense was focused on the way things have always been done in Albany. Well, guess what? It’s a new era in Albany. Everyone should pay attention.”
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara released the following statement:
“Today, Sheldon Silver got justice, and at long last, so did the people of New York.”
Current Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie released the following statement:
“I am deeply saddened by the events that have taken place this year, culminating with today’s conviction of former Speaker Sheldon Silver.
Words simply aren’t enough. We will continue to work to root out corruption and demand more of elected officials when it comes to ethical conduct. The Assembly Majority remains committed to exploring ideas and implementing reforms to restore trust in our government.
Accountability and transparency are of the utmost importance to the Assembly Majority. It is our hope that in time, the new measures we have recently put in place to strengthen ethics compliance will have a positive impact. This includes the creation of the Assembly Office of Ethics and Compliance, enactment of more stringent disclosure requirements, enhancements to the per diem reimbursement policy, new limitations on the use of campaign funds, and access to greater resources for the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE). Several of these changes will go into effect over the coming months.
In addition to the enacted measures, the Assembly Majority has independently passed a number of ethics-related bills that were not taken up by the State Senate. Among these measures is a bill to close the LLC loophole and campaign finance reform measures to limit the influence of big money in politics, including the clarification of housekeeping accounts and independent expenditures, as well as the establishment of a meaningful public financing system. We also continue to seek an agreement on a pension forfeiture constitutional amendment that matches the bill we passed earlier this year. These are priorities for the Assembly Majority and while we will continue to advocate for them, we cannot achieve these goals without the support of our partners in government.
The Assembly Majority has taken clear and determined steps to combat corruption, and we will continue our efforts to restore public trust in government. That means remaining vigilant and not losing sight of our duty to families across this state that are relying on us to deliver a stronger minimum wage, quality education that meets the needs of our students and other basic necessities like an affordable home. With preparations for the 2016 Legislative Session underway, we look forward to a session focused on progress and continued success in our mission to put families first and strengthen our communities.”