Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, 77, dies in federal custody

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Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, 77, dies in federal custody
Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver died in federal custody on Monday. (Photo from the Island Now archives)

After being convicted of political corruption in 2018, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver made a desperate plea to have his seven-year sentence reduced, writing, “I pray I will not die in prison.” On Monday, the 77-year-old Democrat, who received financial kickbacks from a New Hyde Park-based real estate firm, died in federal custody.

Silver was first elected to the state Assembly in 1973 from the Lower East Side of Manhattan. As speaker, he held sway over many major legislative decisions from 1994 until his arrest in January 2015. Later that year, he was convicted of political corruption charges and sentenced to 12 years in prison, a decision that was overturned in 2017 after a Supreme Court ruling which narrowed the definition of corruption.

In May 2018, Silver was again found guilty on seven counts of bribery, extortion, money laundering and honest services fraud after receiving more than $1 million in kickbacks disguised as legal referral fees to his firm, Weitz & Luxenberg. After receiving payments from Glenwood Management, a real estate firm in New Hyde Park, a Manhattan developer and a Manhattan physician, Silver directed state actions that benefited the parties he obtained money from.

In July 2018, Silver was sentenced to seven years in prison. Before his arrest, Silver was one of the three most powerful politicians in New York, a list that included former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and former Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Glenwood Management also played a part in Skelos’ trial, where he was also convicted on corruption charges. 

Silver’s former chief of staff, Judith Rapfogel, told The New York Times that he was incarcerated at Devens Federal Medical Center in Ayer, Massachusetts. Silver died at the Nashoba Valley Medical Center, according to The Times, though the cause of death was not immediately confirmed.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat who replaced Silver after his conviction in 2015, touted his predecessor’s efforts to help rebuild lower Manhattan following Sept. 11 along with prioritizing New Yorkers’ quality of life throughout his tenure in the Assembly.

“I will remember Shelly for his many legislative accomplishments,” Heastie said in a statement. “For years he was the lone voice in the room pushing back against many regressive policies that would have harmed so many New Yorkers, and he presided over landmark laws to improve the lives of our most vulnerable residents. My heart goes out to his wife, Rosa, and his children, grandchildren and many friends during this difficult time.”

Born on Feb. 13, 1944, Silver was the youngest of four children whose parents immigrated to the United States from Russia. Silver, an Orthodox Jew, received his bachelor’s degree from Yeshiva University and a law degree from Brooklyn Law School. According to The Associated Press, Silver was known to observe Sabbath despite lengthy legislative meetings.

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