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Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver sentenced to 12 years in prison

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Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was  sentenced to 12 years in prison Tuesday and told by a federal judge that he must give back $5 million that he stole from the public, as well a pay another $1.75 million in fines.

Over 100 family members, constituents and lobbyists wrote letters on behalf of the disgraced former Speaker. Silver himself apologized in a letter and his lawyers pleaded for mercy. Despite that, the judge sentenced Silver to a dozen years in federal prison and ordered that he pay back $5 million he gained from illegal kickback schemes, as well as a $1.75 million fine. 

Silver will be allowed to keep his public pension, along with an apartment and a house in the Catskills.

Silver was convicted late last year on multiple felony charges for engineering schemes involving a real estate company, tax firm, and even a Columbia University doctor who recommended cancer cases to Silver’s law firm. That netted the former Speaker $4 million.

Prosecuting attorneys said Silver exploited his position of power to illegally gain the funds and in the days leading up to the sentencing, revealed that the former legislative leader had two affairs, one with his former communications director, now a prominent lobbyist, and a former Assemblywoman, who they say gained financially from the arrangement.

Dick Dadey, with the reform group Citizens Union, who waited outside the courtroom to hear the sentence, says it’s a fair punishment.

“It’s a strong and appropriate sentence,” Dadey said.

US Attorney Preet Bharara, who brought the case, tweeted that the “stiff sentence is a just and fitting end to Sheldon Silver's long career of corruption."

Moments before Silver was sentenced, his successor in the Assembly, Alice Cancel, who won a special election last month, was being seated for the first time.

Silver’s successor as Assembly Speaker, Carl Heastie, says it’s a sign that the Assembly is moving on from a low point.

“It’s the ending of a sad chapter,” Heastie said. “We  have to get on with life. We still have work to do before the end of the session.”

A Siena College poll released Tuesday shows that 97% of the public would like that work to include ethics reform to reduce the frequent incidents of corruption among state lawmakers. Among the ideas are stripping pensions from lawmakers who are convicted felons, limiting outside income for lawmakers and closing campaign finance loopholes. 

Speaker Heastie says he’s not sure, though, that changing the rules can prevent bad actors from doing wrong.

“Whether things are a deterrent or not, I’m just not sure,” said Heastie, who said he does want to restore public confidence in the legislature.

Silver is the first of two former legislative leaders to face a judge for sentencing. Former Senate Leader Dean Skelos and his son will be sentenced in the same federal courtroom on May 12, also for conviction on multiple corruption charges.

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.
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