11-term New York speaker sentenced to 6.5 years in prison

11-term New York speaker sentenced to 6.5 years in prison

Sheldon Silver’s reign as speaker ended with corruption charges.

As Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s political dealings become the subject of an expanding federal investigation, a prominent New York speaker has been sentenced to prison. Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was sentenced on July 20 to six and a half years in prison for a bribery scheme.

Silver, 76, two years younger than Madigan, served as assembly speaker for nearly 21 years before being arrested on corruption charges two weeks into his 11th term as speaker in 2015. He spent 35 years representing Manhattan’s Financial District in Albany.

Silver was twice convicted on charges that he accepted nearly $4 million in bribes. His first conviction was overturned because of poor jury instructions. In the second case, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld his conviction on four charges of using his office to benefit other parties in exchange for cash.

Like the allegations that implicate Madigan for using his power to push through favorable legislation for Commonwealth Edison, Silver used his position as speaker to push through legislation to benefit a real estate group working with a law firm that paid Silver.

“This was corruption, pure and simple,” said U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni. “The time, however, has now come for Mr. Silver to pay the piper.”

Silver apologized prior to his sentencing, telling the court, “My use of my office for personal gain was improper, selfish and ethically indefensible.”

Madigan has not been charged with a crime and maintains his innocence. His office released a statement after being served with a grand jury subpoena to produce documents that by cooperating with the subpoena, Madigan expects to be found clean.

The parallels between Madigan and Silver continue, however. Like Madigan, Silver was known for using the power of his speakership.

“He abused his office, he did it for profit, he did it for at least 15 years,” U.S. Attorney Daniel Richenthal said. “The only reason he stands to be sentenced on fewer counts today is because he was so good at hiding what he did.”

As one state speaker is about to begin his term in prison, federal investigators are hard at work taking an in-depth look at the operations of America’s longest-serving state House speaker. In Springfield since 1971, Madigan has spent 35 years as speaker, changing the rules to benefit him and consolidating power in the General Assembly.

Now, the walls appear to be closing in on Madigan. Silver’s sentence is a reminder that even the most powerful politicians are not immune from federal prosecution.

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