One of New York’s most powerful politicians abused his office for more than a decade, orchestrating multimillion-dollar bribery schemes he kept hidden from public view through lies and deception, a U.S. prosecutor told jurors on Monday at the close of his corruption trial.
Sheldon Silver, who as speaker of the state assembly wielded enormous political influence, collected $4 million in illegal bribes and kickbacks in exchange for official acts, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Goldstein said in New York federal court.
“The evidence is in; it is clear and it is overwhelming,” Goldstein said.
The defense, which has argued that Silver was simply conducting business as usual, is expected to deliver its closing argument later on Monday.
Silver’s counterpart in the state Senate, former majority leader Dean Skelos, is himself on trial for corruption in the same Manhattan courthouse, charged with coercing several companies into sending payments to his son Adam in order to secure his support for key legislation.
The two trials represent the highest-profile cases in a string of recent prosecutions and ethics scandals that have ensnared dozens of New York lawmakers.
Silver, 71, and Skelos, 67, stepped down from their leadership posts after their arrests but have continued to work as legislators, representing lower Manhattan and Long Island, respectively. Silver’s trial began on Nov. 3.
Under the state’s political system, the assembly speaker and the senate majority leader, together with the governor, comprise the so-called “three men in a room” who exercise virtually unfettered control over the legislative process in Albany.
With Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, looking on from the audience, Goldstein said Silver awarded $500,000 in secret state grant money to a cancer researcher, Robert Taub, who in turn referred asbestos patients to Silver’s law firm. Silver received millions of dollars in fees from the firm as a result, Goldstein said.
“I will keep giving cases to Shelley because I may need him in the future - he is the most powerful man in New York State,” Taub, who testified under a non-prosecution deal with the government, wrote in one 2010 email.
Silver is also charged with accepting $700,000 in kickbacks for steering real estate developers to another law firm, with the understanding that he would adjust laws on rent regulation in their favor.
He faces charges of fraud, extortion and money laundering.—Reuters