Buffalo Law Journal sought out Barry Covert, noted Buffalo criminal and professional licensing defense attorney, to discuss the January 22 arrest of Sheldon Silver, who served as speaker of the New York State Assembly for two decades. Mr. Silver is charged with mail and wire fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud, using his official position to commit extortion, and extortion conspiracy. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison for each count.
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Mr. Covert noted that Mr. Silver allegedly accepted money through at least two law firms for work that was never done and said interested parties gave money in exchange for favors and to influence his decision-making as speaker of the Assembly.
The article notes that while Mr. Silver served in one of the state’s most powerful positions, for many years he also earned a lucrative income outside government, “claiming to be an active attorney.” Officials say he used that legal career to hide payoffs for more than a decade.
“If true, these are very damning allegations,” Mr. Covert is quoted saying. “The prosecution has to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt and we’ve only seen one side of the story so far.”
While it’s unlikely that Mr. Silver, if convicted, will face all of the time possible, given the amount of money and the significance of the charges, along with other allegations involved, he could be looking at a significant amount of jail time, Mr. Covert told the Law Journal.
“It’s so sad that it’s taken this long for these types of corruption cases to come to fruition,” Mr. Covert said. “We’ve heard rumors for years, and now you have the criminal complaint that says he’s been doing this for 15 years. So why on earth would it take that long to go after politicians like this when we’ve all heard these rumors for years?”
Prosecuting the case
Historically, public corruption cases have been difficult for prosecutors to prove, Mr. Covert told the publication. They need an overwhelming amount of evidence to show that money or items were actually exchanging hands for the purpose of improperly influencing a politician to introduce legislation or regulations, he said.
The criminal standard of “beyond reasonable doubt” is purposefully high, Mr. Covert said, so people don’t become felons and potentially face jail time without there being strong proof.
“It’s difficult to always tie A to B — that the only reason the politician received the money was specifically to influence his or her decisions improperly on specific regulations or legislation, as opposed to maybe there’s a little too cozy of a relationship between the interested party and politician … or there’s another explanation for the transfer,” Mr. Covert said.
A member of Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria’s Criminal Defense Trials and Appeals Practice Area, Mr. Covert has extensive experience defending attorneys and other professionals.