NEW YORK (AP) — Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a consummate backroom dealer who wielded power for more than two decades, was sentenced to 12 years behind bars Tuesday in one the steepest falls from grace in the state’s lineup of crooked politicians.
The 72-year-old Manhattan Democrat was expected to plead for leniency during a hearing at which prosecutors sought more than a decade behind bars for causing “immeasurable damage” to the public trust.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara pursued the corruption case against Silver, as he has continued his crusade against corruption in the Empire State. Bharara announced the prison sentence and a $1.75 million fine against Silver on Tuesday.
“Today’s stiff sentence is a just and fitting end to Sheldon Silver’s long career of corruption,” Bharara said.
Silver was convicted last year in a $5 million corruption case alleging he traded favors to enrich himself and then lied about it. His former Senate counterpart, Republican ex-Majority Leader Dean Skelos, is also set to be sentenced this month after being convicted of using his position to arrange payments and a job for his son.
Silver and Skelos comprised two of the so-called “three men in a room” who control state government, and their cases produced marquee convictions in Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s ongoing quest to clean up a state government he has called a “cauldron of corruption.” More than 30 other state lawmakers have left office under a cloud of criminal or ethical allegations since 2000.
The third man in the room, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, promised sweeping reforms to New York’s anti-corruption laws after last year’s convictions. But so far, there has been no significant action.
Bharara also is investigating Cuomo’s office, looking into potential conflicts of interest and improper bidding in a signature state economic development program in Buffalo. The prosecutor also examining consulting work done by one of Cuomo’s former top aides in 2014, when the aide spent eight months on leave. In response, Cuomo’s administration is conducting an internal review.
The gray-haired, bespectacled Silver was first elected in 1976 and served as speaker for 21 years, becoming the classic Albany insider with the power to control bills and state spending singlehandedly in backroom negotiations. Known for his often inscrutable comments and wary, phlegmatic demeanor, Silver gained the nickname “the Sphinx.”
Prosecutors say Silver came to trade his office for $4 million in kickbacks from a cancer researcher and real estate developers. They said he amassed more than $2 million in assets and arranged to receive a $70,000 annual pension from the state.
The embattled former politician apologized for his transgressions in a communication to the public.
“I failed the people of New York. There is no question about it,” he wrote. “What I have done has hurt the Assembly, and New York, and my constituents terribly, and I regret that more than I can possibly express.”
He added: “Because of me, the government has been ridiculed. I let my peers down, I let the people of the state down, and I let down my constituents — the people of lower Manhattan that I live among and fought for. They deserve better.”