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Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver convicted on corruption charges

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A lawmaker who was one of New York's most powerful politicians has been convicted by a federal jury of charges that he used the power of his office to earn $5 million illegally. 

Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver stepped down from the leadership post after his January arrest, though he has remained an assemblyman. The federal jury in Manhattan returned the verdict Monday after a three-week trial. 

Lawyers for the 71-year-old Democrat had argued that he committed no crime. They said his actions were normal for politicians in Albany.  

But prosecutors 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.

Government reform groups say the conviction makes clear the need for immediate action in Albany, and are calling on the governor to call a special session in December to clean up state government.

Blair Horner, with the New York Public Interest Research Group, calls the verdict a “political earthquake.” He says among other changes, politicians' outside income, which is now unlimited, needs to be curbed.

"The question is, 'Have we hit the tipping point?' Certainly, one would hope the conviction of the former speaker of the Assembly should tip the scales toward action, not inaction," said Horner.

Silver’s former counterpart in the legislature, former Senate leader Dean Skelos, is also on trial on federal corruption charges, accused of using his influence to gain no-show jobs for his son.

"The jury has spoken – and quite loudly. Everyone in the State Capitol had better be listening," said Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.