NEW YORK (Reuters) – Former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver went on trial on federal corruption charges for the second time on Monday, seven months after an appeals court threw out his earlier conviction and a 12-year prison sentence.
In opening statements before U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan, Assistant U.S. Attorney Damian Williams told jurors that Silver funneled state money to a prominent cancer researcher and supported a real estate developer’s interests on rent legislation in exchange for about $4 million in bribes and kickbacks.
“This was politics for profit,” Williams said. “As you’re going to learn, no one played that corrupt game better than Sheldon Silver.”
Silver’s lawyer, Michael Feldberg, told jurors that prosecutors could not prove that Silver agreed to engage in “official acts” in exchange for payment, echoing the language of a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision that led to Silver’s first conviction being overturned.
Feldberg also stressed that Silver had revealed all of the payments at issue on income disclosure forms required by the state.
“The evidence will show there is no corrupt agreement in this case,” he said. “There is no quid pro quo, there is no bribe.”
Silver, 74, has pleaded not guilty to charges of honest services fraud, extortion and money laundering.
Silver was found guilty of those charges by a jury in November 2015. In May 2016, Caproni sentenced him to 12 years in prison.
Last July, however, a New York federal appeals court threw out the conviction. The court ruled that the jury had received improper instructions in light of the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision overturning the corruption conviction of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.
The Supreme Court found in that decision that routine political activities such as arranging meetings or reaching out to public officials were not “official acts” that could be prosecuted under federal bribery law.
Silver, a Democrat, represented Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and was Assembly speaker from 1994 to 2015.
Along with Governor Andrew Cuomo and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, he was one of the “three men in a room” with effective power to dictate New York legislative priorities.
Skelos was convicted of corruption charges in December 2015 and sentenced to five years in prison. His conviction was overturned last year as well, for similar reasons as Silver’s, and prosecutors have said they would try him again.
Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Susan Thomas and Steve Orlofsky