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Sheldon Silver


By A. Kronstadt

In 2015, New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was arrested on federal corruption charges, and resigned as Speaker of the Assembly shortly thereafter. In November 2015, Silver was convicted of all charges. The felony convictions triggered his automatic expulsion from the Assembly. In May 2016, Silver was sentenced to 12 years in prison and ordered to repay $5.3 million in ill-gotten gains and $1.75 million in additional fines. Silver's conviction was overturned by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan in July 2017, but in May 2018, following a retrial, Silver was found guilty on the same charges. In July 2018, Silver was sentenced to seven years in prison. As of press time of this issue of The SHADOW [September 2019] Silver remains FREE on $200,000 bond, even after being re-tried, re-convicted, and re-sentenced in federal court on multi-million dollar corruption charges that had been reversed on appeal. He has not served a day in prison since his original conviction in 2015. The U.S. Court of Appeals is now allowing Silver to re-appeal his new conviction and has extended his bail through this second appeal. Such consideration for a federal defendant is almost unprecedented and can only be interpreted as being payment for services rendered. Incredibly, Silver also continues to receive a pension from the State Assembly in the amount of $6,602 per month. According to the terms of the 2011 Clean Up Albany Act, the New York State Legislature can revoke the pension of a state official convicted of a felony connected with his or her office. However, that law may only be applied to officials who entered the pension system after the law was enacted in 2011.


The now 75-year old Silver is the kind of criminal New York's ruling class can live with. He served his purpose as a power broker and enabler of big landlords. Until his 2015 conviction, he was one of the all powerful “three men in a room,” along with the governor and, in those days, the always Republican State Senate Majority Leader, who were able to decide the fate of millions of New Yorkers behind our backs. It was Shelly Silver who, in 1997, sat down in that room with then Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno and Republican bozo Governor George Pataki to allow landlords of rent-stabilized apartments to impose a 20% vacancy surcharge on new tenants every time a rent-stabilized apartment was vacated. At the same time, they also agreed on a “luxury decontrol” provision that removed apartments from rent-stabilization protection when rent reached $2,000 per month. With the vacancy surcharge in New York's City's inhuman and insane housing market, thousands of apartments hit the $2,000 mark immediately and became “market rate” apartments, stripped of rent regulation. Over time, hundreds of thousands of units were no longer rent-stabilized. Last year, after Republicans lost their majority in the New York State Senate, the Legislature got rid of both the vacancy surcharge and “luxury decontrol,” part of a series of good things that came about in New York ensuant upon Sheldon Silver's arrest. However, the damage already done was permanent. As reported in The SHADOW, Sheldon Silver made certain that the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area [SPURA], a six block series of vacant lots in Silver's district that resulted from a slum clearance project in the 1960s, remained vacant during his entire 38 year tenure in the State Assembly. The SPURA site was supposed to be developed as low-income housing for the mostly Latino and Asian residents of the tenement buildings that had been demolished on that site, but Silver, representing the prejudices of predominantly Jewish co-op owners who elected him, saw to it that no construction activity occurred there until it was ultimately snapped up for luxury development. Presently, the Lower East Side is experiencing a wave of pricey construction projects, ranging from Essex Crossing at the SPURA site to the super tall tower slated for the remote Two Bridges section of the neighborhood, which abuts Wall Street. It is Sheldon Silver whom the real estate development community has to thank for keeping areas slated for low-income housing empty until property values had increased to the point when mega-profits could be made. Would they really allow a man who has done such favors for them to go to jail? As a footnote to the “three men in a room” saga, the two New York State Senate Majority Leaders who served as Shelly Silver's faithful negotiating partners while he sold out New York City to the rich—Joe Bruno and his successor Dean Skelos—were also indicted for acts of corruption. And, guess what? Neither of THEM have spent even a night in jail. Bruno's conviction for taking $3.2 million in “consulting fees” for helping companies who wanted to do business with the state was overturned on appeal. Skelos remains free on appeal bond, like his counterpart Silver, after conviction on eight counts of bribery, extortion, and mail fraud. Furthermore, under the above-mentioned loophole in the Clean Up Albany Act of 2011, Skelos continues to receive a pension of $90,000 per year because he, like Silver, entered the pension system before 2011.


Silver was convicted of a laundry list of offenses that involved selling the powers of his office. As a sideline to his job as Speaker of the Assembly, Silver was on the books as an attorney for the law firm Weitz & Luxenberg, which specialized in getting money for people who had contracted mesothelioma, a usually fatal form of cancer, from asbestos exposure on the job. Silver did not actually conduct any litigation on behalf of Weitz & Luxenberg's clients, but he nevertheless received $1.4 million dollars in salary and $3.9 million in referral fees from the firm. The complex scheme by which he earned this money started with Silver using his office to facilitate $500,000 in state grants to Columbia University asbestos disease researcher Dr. Robert Taub. Taub saw hundreds of patients who were critically ill with mesothelioma and he would uniformly refer them to Weiss & Luxenberg for their legal needs. Employers who were responsible for workers' exposure to the deadly material had already been forced to contribute to a superfund to handle the many judgments against them. Weiss & Luxenberg arranged for sick workers, or their families after they had passed on, to receive the money, for which they would extract a hefty fee on a contingency basis. Weitz & Luxenberg then compensated Sheldon Silver lavishly for his services. In parallel with his asbestos scam, Silver was also a no-show employee of the law firm Goldberg & Iryami, P.C., which specialized in saving big money for landlords and developers under the 421a tax abatement program, meant to incentivize investment in “under-used properties,” which Silver himself had sponsored as a legislator and which renewal he perennially used as a bargaining chip with the other two men the room. At least 17 landlords seeking 421a abatements or fighting against denial of abatements under the program, all of them clients of Goldberg & Irayami, conveniently ended up having their cases adjudicated in front of Judge Martin Shulman, a neighbor of Sheldon Silver in the Grand Street co-ops. Shulman is a lifelong friend of Silver and a member of the Bialystoker Synagogue, of which Silver was president. The indictment alleged that Silver received $700,000 in fees from Goldberg & Iryami--not quite as much as kickbacks from Weitz & Luxenberg, but enough to constitute yet another blatant case of bribery. The nearly four million dollars in bribes he received was above and beyond Silver's salary as Speaker, which was $121,000 per annum.


Silver's appeal of his second conviction continues to drag on. His lawyers argue that the actions performed by Silver on a legislative level with regard to the mesothelioma grants and the 421a tax abatements did not meet the criteria for an “official act,” as defined in case law. His original conviction was overturned because the judge had failed to instruct the jury that if the service provided by Silver in exchange for the kickbacks did not constitute an “official act,” then Silver could not be convicted of bribery. At his second trial, the judge made the correct instruction to the jury, which re-convicted Silver and confirmed that he had indeed been guilty of performing official acts in exchange for bribes, which is a felony. However, the three-judge panel hearing Silver's second appeal continues to allow his attorneys to quibble about whether the “pro” in the “quid pro quo” between Silver and the law firms was actually an official act, though two juries have already determined that a string of felonies were committed. The appeals court has given Silver's legal team until December 3 to file all papers. Meanwhile, convicted felon Sheldon Silver continues to walk the streets of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, confident that New York's ruling class will most likely never go so far as to imprison a man who has provided as many services to the rich as he did.