Conviction of Sheldon Silver tossed; retrial sought

The corruption conviction of former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has been overturned. On May 3, 2016, federal judge Valerie E. Caproni of the United States District Court for the Southern District of NY sentenced Silver to 12 years in jail, and ordered him to pay $5.3 million in ill-gotten gains and $1.75 million in additional fines. He was convicted of taking more than $4 million in kickbacks from a cancer researcher and real estate developers. Silver's lawyers argued in their appeal that in presenting its case the government had also failed to trace "dirty" funds that were comingled with "clean" funds.

On November 30, 2015, a unanimous jury found Silver guilty on all seven counts of making illegal investments through private vehicles, netting a profit of $750,000.

Now, Reice said he's looking at whether the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, will reconsider Taub's case given the ruling on Silver.

In overturning the conviction Thursday, the Manhattan court cited a US Supreme Court ruling past year in the case of Bob McDonnell, a former Republican governor of Virginia, that narrowed the definition of the kind of official conduct that can serve as the basis of a corruption prosecution.

The Second Circuit didn't outright acquit Silver, determining "the evidence was enough that a properly instructed jury could have convicted him", Kramer said.

"Given the teachings of the Supreme Court in McDonnell and the particular circumstances of this case, we simply can not reach that conclusion", Cabranes added.

That 2016 ruling said actions exchanged for gifts or money must involve "a formal exercise of governmental power" to be considered criminal.

"In sum, an "official act" is a decision or action on a 'question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy", Roberts wrote.

What the court pointedly did not say, however, is that Silver didn't do the things that the evidence clearly proved.

"What I think it means is there's a lot of cases where there's kind of inappropriate or unappealing behavior by politicians, and that kind of stuff isn't going to get prosecuted unless the government can really point to a specific vote or funding grant or official action", Kramer said.

The ruling adds further uncertainty as to what will happen with the appeal of the conviction of former New York Senate leader Dean Skelos. "Silver's activities were, they don't meet the definition of a crime", he said.


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