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Sheldon Silver Sentenced to 12 Years in Prison

By  Irene Plagianos and Radhika Marya | May 3, 2016 3:36pm | Updated on May 3, 2016 4:20pm

 Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver exited the court after being sentenced to 12 years in federal prison on May 3, 2016.
Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver exited the court after being sentenced to 12 years in federal prison on May 3, 2016.
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DNAinfo/Irene Plagianos

MANHATTAN FEDERAL COURT — Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, once one of New York's most powerful politicians, was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison Tuesday following his conviction on corruption charges.

Judge Valerie Caproni also ruled that Silver must pay a $1.75 million fine and forfeit $5 million, the net amount of money prosecutors said he earned through two kickback schemes. Silver was told to surrender to prison by noon on July 1.

"Corruption attacks the very heart of our system of government," Caproni said, adding that her sentence would send a message that "corruption is going to be dealt with seriously."

Before he was sentenced, Silver spoke briefly in a quiet voice, saying that he "let down" his family, colleagues and constituents.

"I'm truly, truly sorry for that," he said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara lauded the sentencing on Twitter:

The disgraced ex-assemblyman was convicted in November of charges of extortion and money laundering related to two bribery schemes in which he received millions in kickbacks by trading political favors for money.

Silver, 72, faced more than 100 years in prison, though it was never thought he would serve anywhere near that amount.

Prosecutors had asked the judge to sentence him to at least 14 years behind bars, the most any New York politician would have served for corruption charges.

At the sentencing hearing, U.S. Attorney Carrie Cohen told Caproni that Silver "caused unprecedented damage to our political system" and "massive harm to people's faith in government."

She asked the judge for a sentence that would reflect Silver's "abuse of power and betrayal of the public trust," and that would "send a message that no one, including Sheldon Silver, is above the law."

Silver, his wife, their children and several constituents, had previously asked the judge for leniency in letters send to the judge, calling attention to his years of public service and his battle with prostate cancer.

On Tuesday, Silver's wife sat in court stoically and declined to comment after the sentencing.

The sentencing marks another rung in Silver's steep fall from grace. The once beloved assemblyman represented Lower Manhattan for nearly 40 years.

At the hearing, Silver's defense attorneys repeatedly called attention to those years of public service and the numerous letters that were sent on his behalf, which they said showed all the good he had done for his constituents.

They asked for leniency, especially in light of his battle with prostate cancer, which is now in remission, telling the judge they hoped for a sentence with house arrest and community service.

“His obituary has already been written,” Joel Cohen, one of Silver's lawyers said, adding Silver had been "crushed" and suffered enough for what he has done by disgracing his legacy of otherwise good deeds.

While Caproni acknowledged that the many letters sent to her showed that Silver went “above and beyond the call of duty many times,”  she had to grapple with whether Silver was basically an honest man led astray, or simply a corrupt politician.

After outlining some of his corrupt actions, she concluded “Mr. Silver, those are not the actions of an honest person.”

At the center of Silver's downfall was the issue of how business and politics intermingle in Albany. Prosecutors said Silver abused his power for personal gain, while defense attorneys argued that Silver was acting within the law, even if people were uncomfortable with a system that allows for legislators to earn an outside salary.

Prosecutors said Silver had earned kickbacks through work he professed to do for personal injury law firm Weitz & Luxenberg.

In that scheme, prosecutors said Columbia doctor, Robert Taub, would send patients with mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer, to the firm via Silver. The doctor would receive $500,000 in research money, while Silver earned referral fees.

In addition, prosecutors said Silver took what he considered referral fees from a real estate tax law firm while directing tax breaks to two developers, including the state's largest political donor, Glenwood Management.

During the trial, prosecutors said Silver lied about his work by claiming none of his clients had business with the state, though he was being lobbied by Glenwood.

Along with the corruption presented at trial, the judge also considered evidence recently unsealed that showed Silver had two extramarital affairs with women who had business before the state.

After the sentencing, Silver left the courthouse in a crush of reporters, saying before getting into a cab "I believe in the justice system and we will pursue all remedies."