NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) – Sheldon Silver, a once-powerful politician who worked at one of the most prominent asbestos law firms in the country, was found guilty of corruption by a federal jury on Monday.
The verdict against Silver, a Democrat who was the speaker of the Assembly prior to the indictment against him, came in the fifth week of the trial, the New York Times reported. He was convicted on seven counts of honest services fraud, extortion and money laundering.
“Today, Sheldon Silver got justice, and at long last, so did the people of New York,” said Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Silver was accused of steering state funds to Dr. Robert Taub, who headed a mesothelioma research facility at Columbia University until Silver’s arrest.
In return, Taub referred potential asbestos claimants to Silver, who was “of counsel” at Weitz & Luxenberg.
Grand jurors indicted Silver earlier this year, finding he deprived citizens of his honest services by masking bribes and kickbacks as legitimate income.
They found he had no prior experience in asbestos cases, had no contact with clients, did not evaluate claims and did not advise attorneys at Weitz & Luxenberg, which has denied knowledge of the alleged scheme.
Jurors found he went to great lengths to conceal his relationship with Taub.
They also found he kept secret from Weitz & Luxenberg that he allocated state funds to the doctor’s research center. Bharara alleged that Silver steered $500,000 in grants from the New York State Health Department to Taub.
In return, Taub sent his patients to Silver. Arthur Juni, for example, was treated by Taub three weeks before Weitz & Luxenberg filed a lawsuit on his behalf.
That lawsuit turned into an $11 million verdict, but Judge Barbara Jaffe overturned it. Weitz & Luxenberg is appealing.
Cited as a roadblock to legal reform in New York, Silver has listed income from the New York City asbestos firm Weitz and Luxenberg and the real estate law firm Goldberg & Iryami.
Through the years, Silver refused to disclose the work he provided for the firms. The complaint against him said he has earned more than $6 million in income from the two firms since 2002.
The complaint says Weitz & Luxenberg credited Silver with referring more than 100 asbestos clients to the firm and paid him more than $3.2 million in fees, in addition to his $120,000 salary.
In 1977, Silver began his career in the New York Assembly. In 1994, he was named Assembly Speaker.
The American Tort Reform Association annually criticized his efforts to prevent legal reform in the state, culminating in New York City being named by ATRA in December as the jurisdiction most unfair to corporate defendants.