Sheldon Silver had it all during his two decades as speaker of the Assembly of the New York state Legislature.
He raked in millions in kickbacks.
He had only to say “no” and New York City had to shelve plans to build a football stadium on the West Side of Manhattan as part of a plan to bring the Olympics there.
And it must have been hot, hot, hot with the lady friend who was raking it in as a lobbyist for Madison Square Garden, one of the leading opponents of the stadium.
Silver subsequently went to Rangers games and Knicks games at the Garden with another lady friend, a motorcycle-riding former beauty queen who served briefly as an assemblywoman from Staten Island and then took two jobs arranged by Silver.
The second lady friend reportedly got so hot, hot, hot at the Garden that she engaged in some PDA so indiscreet that Silver changed seats. He was not only a prominent public figure. He is married, as are both his lady friends.
Maybe the cheating added to the kick Silver seems to have gotten from the graft and the posing and the lies. Imagine how buzzed Silver must have been eating steak with Mike Bloomberg at Noah’s Ark diner on the Lower East Side, the billionaire mayor doing all he could to persuade the speaker to say yes to the stadium when it was a no all along for reasons that had at least something to do with a lady friend.
But all that delicious corruption ended with a federal indictment, followed by a trial and a conviction. Silver remained free on bail, but the 72-year-old had an early jump on a jailhouse pallor as he arrived for sentencing in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday afternoon.
Maybe his bloodless visage derived from the the sheer magnitude of his tumble from one of the most powerful positions in the state. His legal team termed it a fall from grace, but that would have required him to have achieved grace in the first place.
Any grace Silver imagined he possessed had proved to be as illusory as his integrity. He wore an American flag in the lapel of his dark blue suit, as if he had not betrayed his country as well as his state and city and fellow representatives and constituents.
Silver now sat at the defense table and glanced back. His eyes showed nothing at all when he saw U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara standing at the rear of the courtroom.
Bharara has also secured convictions against such New York eminences as former state Senate majority leader Dean Skelos and is now investigating possible influence peddling at City Hall. Bharara is smart and determined and tireless.
Silver should have known to fear him.
“How did the defendant think this would all end up?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Cohen asked the court after the hearing commenced.
Silver’s legal team seemed not to think it was being ridiculous when it proposed to the court that Silver be sentenced to house arrest and community service where he could use his “truly unique talents” for the public good. Defense lawyer Joel Cohen argued that Silver was “already crushed.”
“His obituary has already been written,” Mr. Cohen said.
Federal Judge Valerie Caproni asked Silver if he wished to speak. He did his best to sound remorseful about more than his own misfortune.
“I am truly, truly sorry,” he said.
The prosecution had asked in court papers for the sentence to exceed any given in recent times to other corrupt New York politicians. The current record was 14 years, given to Assemblyman William Boyland in Brooklyn federal court last September.
Caproni said she was mindful of Silver’s age and did not wish to impose what would amount to a life sentence. She said she was also taking into account the many letters written to the court on Silver’s behalf, detailing his many good deeds.
“A talented politician who went above and beyond the call of duty many times,” the judge said.
But she was also mindful of the seriousness of Silver’s crimes. He had collected more than $4 million in a scheme where he arranged public financing for a mesothelioma doctor’s research in exchange for the doctor referring patients to his law firm. He scored more than $1 million securing tax breaks and other special attentions for a big real estate firm.
And those were only the immediate felonies. His larger sin was to make the public further doubt those whom they elect to represent them.
“Corruption attacks the very heart of our system,” the judge said.
She felt duty bound to deter future betrayals of the public trust.
“I hope the sentence I impose on you will make other politicians think twice, until their better angels take over,” Caproni said. “Or, if there are no better angels, perhaps the fear of living out one’s golden years in an orange jumpsuit will keep them on the straight and narrow.”
Silver’s shoulders were slumped and his head was bowed, as if he were slipping into his own shadow. The big moment came.
“Mr. Silver, I remand you to the custody of the attorney general for a period of 12 years,” the judge said.
He was also fined $1.75 million on top of being required to pay more than $5 million in restitution.
“You must pay at least $1.5 million not later than June 14, 2016,” the judge added.
She was recommending that he be lodged at the federal prison in Otisville, New York. He would remain at liberty until his surrender date.
“Noon, July 1, 2016,” the judge said.
Justice done, Caproni retired to her chambers. Silver stood with his lawyers. He is from the Lower East Side, and he has enough of the street corner kid still in him that he did not appear shaken even if he was.
More than anything, he just looked empty. That did not change as his wife, a retired schoolteacher named Rosa Silver, came up with their son. She leaned in and said something quietly.
Down on the first floor, the wife went into the women’s room. The son waited for her out in the hallway.
Sheldon Silver and his legal team continued out into the street via a side door only to be swarmed by a media mob that they had apparently hoped to elude.
He finally escaped to a yellow taxi. He rode off toward the Lower East Side, free until July 1. His lasting mark on the city is the absence of a stadium the West Side. He could quite possibly end his golden years in an orange jumpsuit.