MANHATTAN FEDERAL COURT — Former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is fighting to stay out of prison while he appeals his corruption conviction — a pending appeal that he's likely to win thanks to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, his lawyers argue in court papers filed this week.
Silver, once one of New York's most powerful politicians, was sentenced in May to 12 years in prison, along with a fine and forfeiture of more than $6 million, after a federal jury found him guilty of a host of corruption charges related to two bribery schemes in which he received millions in kickbacks by trading political favors for money.
He was initially ordered to start his jail time in July, but Judge Valerie Caproni agreed to push the date to Aug. 31, to wait for a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on the corruption case of former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, allowing that it could affect Silver's appeal efforts.
In court papers filed Monday in Manhattan Federal Court, Silver's lawyers argued just that — the recent ruling, which threw out McDonnell's conviction, means it's likely Silver's conviction will be reversed or he'll get the chance at a new trial. Silver is asking to stay out of prison on bail in the meantime.
McDonnell had been convicted on corruption charges for secretly accepting more than $175,000 in gifts and loans from a local businessman who was trying to garner political favors. But the Supreme Court, in overturning the conviction, narrowed what could be considered an "official act" when related to accusations of corruption — only concrete, formal government actions, not things like setting up meetings or other acts of political courtesies are "official acts," the court said.
Silver's lawyers argue that the charges against him don't fit the new narrowed scope for an "official act" and if the jurors were given a different instruction about what an official act meant, they likely wouldn't have convicted him.
Dean Skelos, another former top New York legislator convicted on corruption charges, is also asking to stay out of prison on bail while he appeals, based on the same Supreme Court ruling as Silver.
Skelos, the former state Senate majority leader, was sentenced to five years in prison less than a week after Silver. A federal jury convicted Skelos and his son on a slate of charges linked to a years-long kickback scheme in which they took money from an environmental company while hiding it from authorities, in exchange for legislative favors from the majority leader.
Prosecutors told The Wall Street Journal that they don't believe the decision in the McDonnell case will affect the outcomes of either Skelos' or Silver's appeal.
A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara told the Wall Street Journal that while his office is reviewing the McDonnell decision, “the official actions that led to the convictions of Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos fall squarely within the definition set forth by the Supreme Court today.”