Appeals court overturns conviction of Sheldon Silver
Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, once among the state’s most powerful elected officials, has had his conviction on corruption charges overturned by an appellate court.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the conviction in a Thursday ruling, citing a U.S. Supreme Court decisionlast year that narrowed the definition of bribery. The appellate judges found that instructions given to the jury in the Silver case were erroneous in light of the Supreme Court decision in the case of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.
“We further hold that this error was not harmless because it is not clear beyond a reasonable doubt that a rational jury would have reached the same conclusion if properly instructed, as is required by law for the verdict to stand,” the Thursday decision states.
The McDonnell case, decided after Silver was convicted in late 2015, provided a more limited interpretation of what an “official act” is, ruling that setting up a meeting, calling another public official or hosting an event do not on their own qualify as official acts. Essentially, the court was asked to opine on what constitutes corruption and what constitutes normal government action for a benefactor.
Silver was convicted of engaging in a two-track corruption scheme that padded his bank account with an estimated $4 million that prosecutors painted as bribes and kickbacks disguised as legal fees. Silver, who was of counsel for well-heeled Manhattan law firm Weitz & Luxenberg, was accused of helping steer state grants to a doctor who funneled mesothelioma patients to the law firm. Silver, who also did legal work for a separate firm that handled property tax assessment appeals, similarly was accused of receiving legal fees from real estate developers that had extensive business before the Legislature.
The Silver case was brought by former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who also won convictions of former state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Long Island, and his son Adam. Skelos also is appealing his conviction.