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Disgraced NY Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver doesn't make the cut for Trump pardon

Jon Campbell
New York State Team

ALBANY – Disgraced former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who spent two decades as one of New York's most powerful politicians before his 2015 arrest on federal bribery charges, did not receive a pardon before President Donald Trump left office after news reports made clear the president was considering it.

On Monday, the New York Times reported Trump was weighing a pardon for Silver, a Democrat who was once one of the most powerful and feared New York politicians of his era.

Silver, 76, is serving a 6 1/2-year prison sentence at FCI Otisville in Orange County after a series of legal maneuvers and appeals had kept him free for five years after he was first convicted of pocketing more than $700,000 in bribes.

After midnight Wednesday, the White House announced Trump had granted clemency to 143 people in his final hours in office.

Silver's name didn't make the cut.

Now, Silver will remain imprisoned in Otisville, 80 miles from his lower Manhattan home in a district he represented from 1977 until his ouster from the Legislature.

Long legal road for Silver

Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver leaves U.S. District Court after he was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison in the corruption case that drove him from power, Monday, July 20, 2020, in the Manhattan borough of New York.

Silver, a Democrat, was first convicted in 2015  of directing a pair of real estate developers with business before the state, Glenwood Management and the Witkoff Group, to steer tax work to a little-known law firm, Goldberg & Iryami, which gave Silver a $700,000 cut. 

Prosecutors accused Silver of using his power and influence when he directed the developers to the law firm. They also accused him of protecting the developers' interests in Albany for years, regularly meeting with their lobbyists on real-estate issues and supporting legislation that benefited them.

After a Supreme Court ruling in an unrelated case narrowed the law Silver was charged under, his conviction was overturned. He was tried and convicted again in 2018. 

Silver, known by many as "Shelly," was also twice convicted of a similar $3 million scheme involving asbestos victims, though an appeals court threw out the conviction in 2020 while making clear Silver still profited from the scheme.

U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni sentenced Silver to prison and ordered him to pay a $1 million fine in July 2020. He reported to the federal prison in Otisville the next month.

It was not clear this week how Silver's case had caught Trump's attention, even if a pardon was not ultimately granted. It left even the Republican Party in Trump's native state puzzled.

Silver and Trump had a number of interactions during Silver's time in office. That includes an unsuccessful effort by Trump to block the expansion of casino gaming in New York in the early 2000s, when he paid a stable of lobbyists — including Roger Stone, who Trump pardoned earlier this week -— in hopes of protecting his New Jersey gambling interests.

Silver was also known to have ties to Trump's top aide and son-in-law Jared Kushner and his father, developer Charles Kushner, who — like Stone — also received a pardon from Trump, a Republican.

Judy Rapfogel, Silver's longtime chief of staff, worked for a time as a property manager for the Kushner Companies following Silver's first conviction, according to the Daily News.

Trump's consideration confused, angered officials

Silver was first prosecuted by then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office developed a reputation for aggressively pursuing public corruption by politicians and government officials. Bharara was later fired by Trump after initially inviting him to remain on the job.

After news broke Monday that Trump was considering a pardon for Silver, Bharara took to Twitter to criticize the move.

"People who say Trump has no empathy are wrong," Bharara tweeted in response to the Times story. "He has the utmost empathy for degenerate, corrupt, disgraced politicians who perhaps remind him of himself."

When a Washington Post reporter tweeted late Tuesday that Silver was unlikely to make the final pardon list, Bharara responded with a thumbs up emoji.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who negotiated budgets and major legislation with Silver from 2011 through 2014, said it was "just confounding" that Trump had apparently considered it in the first place.

"It could just be a favor for some contact, a favor for someone in the Jewish community, a favor for a donor," Cuomo said in a Tuesday afternoon interview on WAMC-FM. "Who knows what it is? (Trump) does not need a logical explanation for his actions. We've learned that."

The New York Republican Party, which remained allied with Trump through the end of his term, posted a tweet Monday night urging Trump not to pardon Silver.

"Silver deserves to actually serve the jail time that he was sentenced (to) for selling the incredible power he yielded to enrich himself," the New York GOP account tweeted. "He was a corrupt and dishonest politician."

More:Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver heads to prison after five years of legal fights

More:Ex-NY Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver gets 6.5 years in prison

Jon Campbell is a New York state government reporter for the USA TODAY Network. He can be reached at JCAMPBELL1@Gannett.com or on Twitter at @JonCampbellGAN.

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