Watchdogs: Tossing of Silver corruption conviction 'should fuel an anger'

Laura Christensen
July 14, 2017

The corruption conviction of the former NY state Assembly Speaker, Sheldon Silver, was overturned Thursday on a technicality by a federal appeals court.

In 2015, Silver - once one of the most powerful people in NY state politics - was convicted of fraud, extortion and money laundering in two quid pro quo schemes.

In its conclusion, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan cited a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision a year ago that allowed Virginia Gov. The ruling clarified how juries should be instructed to view "an official act" in a federal bribery case. The appeals court decision overturned the conviction based on a 2016 Supreme Court decision that changed key definitions used in the jury instructions.

Silver's and Dean Skelos' convictions were among the biggest prosecutions by Kim's predecessor, Preet Bharara, who made fighting public corruption a priority.

Kelly Kramer, a white-collar criminal defense attorney at the Mayer Brown law firm, said that Silver's conviction had always been considered "one of the most vulnerable" after the Supreme Court's decision on McDonnell.

Silver, who represented the Lower East Side in the New York State Assembly, faced years in prison following his 2015 conviction on corruption charges.

The Silver decision "should fuel an anger that is existing already" in the public, he said.

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Prosecutors said Silver came to trade his office for $4 million in kickbacks from a cancer researcher and real estate developers.

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"While we are disappointed by the Second Circuit's decision, we respect it, and look forward to retrying the case", Kim said in a statement.

The Silver ruling will not affect the federal corruption trials later this year of nine former associates of Governor Andrew Cuomo, including Cuomo's former top aide, on bribery and bid rigging, because those trials will take place after the Supreme Court's McDonnell ruling. "The question presented to us, however, is not how a jury would likely view the evidence presented by the government".

Still, the court gave prosecutors plenty of room to think a retrial has merit, and acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim quickly issued a statement saying the government would seek one. "This is yet another area where the Court has misinterpreted the law, setting legal standards which fly in the face of the public' expectations. Although it will be delayed, we do not expect justice to be denied". According to prosecutors, Silver, a lawyer, persuaded a doctor to pass on "valuable leads to unrepresented patients with mesothelioma", and in return, routed grants to the doctor for research and gave other help.

Taub sued Columbia to get his $300,000-a-year job back but was sacked again in April after an appeals court sided with the university.

Heastie, a Bronx Democrat who was tapped by his Democratic colleagues to run the Assembly after Silver stepped down in 2015, offered a brief assessment of his predecessor's legal news Thursday.

Other reports by My Hot News

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