Sheldon Silver
Sheldon SilverReuters

NEW YORK (JTA) — Former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has been sentenced to 12 years in federal prison on corruption charges.

Silver, 72, an Orthodox Jew who for two decades was among the most powerful men in the state, was sentenced Tuesday in Manhattan federal court and ordered to surrender to begin his prison term in July, several media outlets reported. He was convicted in November on seven corruption charges.

At the sentencing, U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Caproni called Silver, 72, one of the most corrupt elected officials in the history of New York.

"None involve an official as high up in New York government as you were," she said, referring to other convicted politicians, The New York Daily News reported.

"None, as far as I can tell, yielded nearly as much in ill-gotten gains or lasted nearly as long," Caproni added, noting that Silver’s “corruption cast a shadow over everything he has done. Those sorts of doubts end up corroding trust in government and that, Mr. Silver, is discernible harm to the people of New York."

In addition to the prison time, Caproni ordered Silver to pay back more than $5 million and fined him $1.75 million.

A Democrat from Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Silver was arrested in 2015 on seven counts of honest services fraud, extortion and money laundering. He resigned his post as speaker at that time but retained his Assembly seat.

In the months between his conviction and sentencing, Malcolm Hoenlein, the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, submitted a letter on Silver's behalf pleading for leniency. According to the Forward, the letter, sent on the official stationery of the umbrella group in January, described Silver as "selfless."

“In the four decades of our association, Mr. Silver volunteered his assistance, participation and support for many important civil and human rights, for advancing intergroup relations, and aiding charitable and communal undertakings,” Hoenlein wrote. “He did so without seeking public recognition.”

In a statement at the sentencing hearing Tuesday, Silver said, “Without question, I let down my constituents, I let down my family, let down my colleagues, and I’m truly, truly sorry for that.”

In a Twitter post shortly after Silver’s sentencing, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said, "Today's stiff sentence is a just and fitting end to Sheldon Silver's long career of corruption.”

One of Silver's corrupt schemes involved Dr. Robert Taub, a friend of Silver and also an Orthodox Jew, who agreed to refer all his patients suffering from mesothelioma, a type of cancer commonly associated with asbestos exposure, to Silver’s law firm. The deal netted Silver over $3 million in referral fees and injury claims. In return, he gave Taub $500,000 in taxpayer funds for research projects.

The second largest scheme involved directing two major development firms into using the law firm Goldberg and Iryami, which gave Silver $700,000 in referral fees.