By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who spent decades as one of the state's most powerful politicians before being convicted of corruption, is set to be sentenced on Tuesday for collecting millions of dollars in illegal kickbacks.
Prosecutors have asked U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan to send the 72-year-old Silver to prison for more than 14 years.
The sentencing caps a stunning fall from power for Silver, a Democrat who represented Manhattan's Lower East Side and served as speaker of the state Assembly from 1994 to 2015.
Along with the state Senate majority leader and the governor, the Assembly speaker is one of the so-called "three men in a room" who control virtually all major legislation in the state capital of Albany.
Silver's counterpart in the state Senate, the former majority leader Dean Skelos, was also found guilty of corruption just 10 days after a jury convicted Silver of seven counts in December.
The back-to-back convictions represented a major win for Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, who has arrested several lawmakers as part of a broader investigation of corruption in Albany.
More than 30 legislators have been forced from office for criminal or ethical issues since 2000, according to the nonprofit watchdog Citizens Union.
Prosecutors said Silver awarded $500,000 in secret state grant money to a cancer researcher who, in exchange, funneled patients to Silver's law firm, allowing the lawmaker to collect millions of dollars in referral fees.
Silver was also accused of steering real estate developers to another law firm in exchange for kickbacks and then throwing his support to rent legislation favored by the developers.
"As a fixture in the legislative leadership, an entire generation of New York legislators served in an institution framed by his corrupt example," prosecutors wrote to Caproni in recommending a lengthy sentence.
Silver's lawyers argued at trial that prosecutors had overreached by criminalizing the type of political dealmaking that often occurs in Albany.
In court papers urging Caproni to impose community service, rather than prison time, his lawyers said Silver served New Yorkers for decades.
Silver himself wrote a letter to Caproni, apologizing for his conduct and asking for leniency.
"I failed the people of New York," he wrote. "There is no question about it."
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Bernadette Baum)