The blockbuster conviction of longtime Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on seven corruption felonies—he’ll be the highest New York official in history to go to jail—may augur a new era of law-abiding legislators, or it may not. “After all, this is New York,” laughed one Albany eyeballer, “second only to Illinois as a cesspool of criminals running the government.”
Now an informal survey of criminal attorneys and courtroom kibbitzers yields an interesting view—the wily lawmaker might have saved his neck if he had testified in his own defense, rather than forfeiting the opportunity to present evidence explaining why the prosecutors were mistaken.
“I rarely put a client on the stand,” one of the city’s most prominent criminal defense lawyers told me, “but in this case, Shelly’s deadpan demeanor and air of gravitas might have won the day on the narrow issue of whether the favors he was doing were meant as a quid pro quo for the money he was receiving on the side.”
The man who ruled the state legislature with an iron fist for two decades needed only one juror holding out to stymie his conviction on seven counts of honest-services fraud, extortion and money laundering. And he had that one juror, Arleen Phillips, a 53-year-old Verizon technician from Mount Vernon, on his side until she folded on the third day of deliberations. She had made news on the first day of deliberations when, after being in the jury room for two hours, she sent a note to the judge asking to be excused because she felt her fellow jurors were bullying her and making her feel “very, very uncomfortable.” But she remained on the jury after the judge instructed jurors to be respectful to one another.
Ms. Phillips told The Times that at the beginning of the trial, observing the defendant in the courtroom, she viewed him as “humble” and “non-assuming.” Even as evidence mounted of Silver’s doing favors and getting money in return, she was willing to think of it as “good will”. But that changed when Silver’s attorneys announced they had decided not to present any evidence challenging the prosecution’s case.
“I wanted to hear his voice so I could determine whether or not there was any arrogance or anything that showed me he was capable of being deceitful,” Ms. Phillips said, “and I didn’t see that for the longest.”
What will happen to Silver now? Under sentencing guidelines and statutes, he could get up to 130 years in the Big House, but the feeling is that 20 years is a more likely sentence, or perhaps even less.
My longtime expert in the ways of federal courts sees it playing out this way: “Silver will get bail while he appeals his case, citing irregularities at trial. His buddies on the 2d Circuit will find some issue to send it back to the district court for a hearing. In the meantime, Silver will suddenly appear to be frail and his health will ‘deteriorate’ rapidly. He’ll end up doing little or no time. His lifelong pal William Rapfogel stole $9 million from the Jewish charity he worked for, was sentenced to 3 and a third to ten in state prison, and was just released after 14 months. The criminal justice system treats some people differently than others.”
With the erstwhile leader of the State Senate, Dean Skelos, currently on trial for corruption, the question becomes: what will happen to the “third man in the room”, Governor Andrew Cuomo? Over the last year, the papers have suggested that United States Attorney Preet Bharara might be investigating Cuomo for three things: (1) obstruction of justice for his mysteriously shutting down the Moreland Commission while it was zeroing in on Albany corruption; (2) his accepting financial benefits from Glenwood Management, the powerful real estate firm who made corrupt payments to Silver and Skelos; and (3) allegations of favoritism in awarding contracts for Cuomo’s pet project Buffalo Billions to a Cuomo campaign contributor.
I asked my wise advisor on all matters legal and political if Silver, who knows where all the bodies have been buried in Albany since 1976 plus who-did-what-for-whom, could reduce his sentence by cooperating with the prosecutors said to be investigating Cuomo.
“He could, but he won’t. Shelly is an observant Jew, and the Talmud specifically forbids informing against others. It is likened to ‘the shedding of blood’,” I was told.
Last January, in his State of the State address in Albany, Gov. Cuomo put his arms around Speaker Silver and Senate Majority Leader Skelos and described the trio as “the three amigos.” At dawn the following morning, Silver was in handcuffs. Not long after, Skelos was indicted and lost his leadership position. Today, Andrew Cuomo is The Last Amigo Standing—for how long?
As Prosecutor Bharara has ominously warned, “Stay tuned.”
Sheldon Silver won’t serve much time
by Richard Johnson
Sheldon Silver won’t spend too much time in prison, no matter how many years he is sentenced to serve.
“Silver will get bail while he appeals his case, citing irregularities at trial. His buddies on the [US] 2nd Circuit [Court of Appeals] will find some issue to send it back to the district court for a hearing,” one legal expert told orbmagazine.com.
“In the meantime, Silver will suddenly appear to be frail and his health will ‘deteriorate’ rapidly. He’ll end up doing little or no time.”
Remember, Silver’s lifelong pal William Rapfogel stole $9 million from the Jewish charity he ran, was sentenced to 3 ¹/₃ to 10 years in state prison, and was recently moved to a minimum security prison in Harlem for a work-release program after serving only 14 months in prison.
Justice isn’t so blind. Some people are more equal than others.