By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A federal appeals court on Tuesday overturned part of former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s corruption conviction and ordered that he be resentenced, a decision likely to mean Silver will spend at least some time in prison.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan voided the once powerful Democrat’s May 2018 conviction on three counts, citing an error in the jury instructions. It upheld his conviction on four counts, including money laundering.
Silver, 75, had been sentenced in July 2018 to seven years in prison but remained free on bail during his appeal.
He would be resentenced by U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan, who imposed the seven-year term. It is unclear whether Silver will appeal further.
Meir Feder, a lawyer for Silver, declined to comment. A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman in Manhattan had no immediate comment.
As a lawmaker, Silver represented Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and was Assembly speaker from 1994 to 2015.
Along with Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo and former Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, he was one of the “three men in a room” with effective power to dictate New York legislative priorities.
Prosecutors accused Silver of arranging for state grants to go to a cancer researcher who referred mesothelioma patients to his law firm, and supporting the interests on rent regulation of two real estate developers that sent business to another law firm.
Silver accepted close to $4 million of illegal payments in exchange for his efforts, prosecutors said.
In its 3-0 decision, the appeals court voided Silver’s conviction on three counts tied to the mesothelioma scheme.
It said jurors were not instructed that Silver could not be convicted of fraud unless prosecutors showed he had promised when accepting a bribe to take official action on a “specific and focused” matter when the opportunity arose.
“The required quid pro quo contained (in the instructions)was too open-ended,” Circuit Judge Richard Wesley wrote in an 84-page decision. “The error is not harmless.”
Silver was originally convicted in November 2015 and sentenced to 12 years in prison. The 2nd Circuit voided that conviction in July 2017, citing a then year-old U.S. Supreme Court decision narrowing the definition of corruption by public officials.
Skelos and his son Adam were convicted on separate corruption charges in July 2018, also in a retrial. Both are in prison, according to federal records.
The case is U.S. v. Silver, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 18-2380.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Tom Brown)