The last time we checked in on former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, things weren’t going too well. For decades Silver had ruled the state capitol with an iron fist, widely recognized as the most powerful Democrat in the state, including the governors. But he wound up in court on charges of influence peddling and pocketing millions of dollars in illicit gains. That resulted in a sentence of twelve years in prison and a bill for more than $6M.
Sheldon Silver isn’t the type to give up easily though, and his lawyers quickly began fighting to appeal the decision. Thanks to a recent Supreme Court ruling, they succeeded this month and a judge has rolled back the sentence to something lighter. This prompted the New York Post editorial board to note that sometimes there really is such a thing as “too much mercy.”
Sheldon Silver caught yet another huge break Friday: The federal judge who’d previously sentenced him to 12 years in prison for corruption instead opted to set his new term at just seven years.
That’s a huge loss for New Yorkers — and for the hope that his penalty would send a clear warning to all the pols still in office.
An appeals court tossed the onetime Assembly speaker’s original conviction after a US Supreme Court ruling narrowed the definition of corruption. That also vacated Judge Valerie Caproni’s original sentence.
But even under the new guidelines, a second jury found that Silver illicitly pocketed at least $4 million by trading on his public office for a decade.
It must be nice to benefit from a narrower definition of corruption. And no matter how you slice it, Silver was one of the more corrupt figures in recent New York history. (We have to couch those descriptions a bit because, well… this is New York we’re talking about. You’ve got a long road to run before you top some of our most corrupt figures from history.)
So how much of a benefit will this be to the 74-year-old convict? Seven years is still nothing to sneeze at when you’re that old, but it’s doubtful that he’ll spend anywhere near that much time behind bars. A couple of attorneys I asked about this agreed that Silver will very likely only do three or possibly even two years in prison before being moved to some sort of house arrest/probation situation. He clearly had enough money to pay the fines imposed on him. (Go figure, huh?) After that, assuming he has that much life left to him, it will be back to retirement and life as usual.
So, returning to the question posed by the NY Post editorial board, what sort of message are we sending to the rest of the state’s politicians? Silver rose to power inside of a corrupt system and quickly mastered the trade. He was on top for a very long time, enjoying the many perquisites of his position. And he stayed ahead of the law for seven decades. After all that, he may wind up doing less than a handful of years in jail.
New York currently has a governor and a mayor in its largest city who are surrounded by a circus of corruption trials which have taken down their donors, aides and close associates. And yet they somehow manage to keep on keeping on without ever being caught up. It seems to me that the real message from all of this is that in New York politics, corruption is big business and business is still very, very good.