Former New York Assembly Speaker Silver dies in prison

Silver became speaker in February 1994, becoming one of the most powerful officials in the state.

Updated: January 24, 2022 - 10:53pm

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Sheldon Silver, a Democratic politician from Manhattan who served more than 20 years as the speaker of the New York State Assembly before being convicted on federal corruption charges, died Monday at the age of 77.

A spokesperson for the Federal Bureau of Prisons confirmed to The Center Square Silver died at the Nashoba Valley Medical Center in Ayer, Mass., located between Worcester and Nashua, N.H.

Silver was in custody at the Devens Federal Medical Center in Ayer. He was serving a six-and-a-half-year sentence after being convicted in 2018 on four counts of mail fraud, extortion and engaging in monetary transactions involving criminal proceeds.

He was sentenced in July 2020 and also fined $1 million. His scheduled release date was March 10, 2026.

Described in court documents as “the hardware store owner’s son that never left the Lower East Side,” Silver served in the state legislature for more than 38 years, winning his first election in 1976.

He became speaker in February 1994, becoming one of the most powerful officials in the state, often working with the governor and the Senate majority leader on agreements regarding legislation.

Silver served in that role until he stepped down in February 2015, just days after he was arrested by federal authorities on charges he took $4 million in illicit payments from developers and a cancer researcher.

He stayed in the legislature until he was first convicted in a federal court in November 2015. He appealed that verdict and got it overturned, but federal authorities retried the case.

An appeal of the second conviction was unsuccessful. In January 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court denied his petition.

With COVID-19 breaking out as the second appeal continued, Silver and his legal team fought to keep him out of prison.

“As an obese, 76-year-old man with a history of cancer, chronic kidney disease, and other health ailments, Mr. Silver is among those most at risk of dying from COVID-19. It does not appear this risk will abate any time soon,” his defense team wrote in a June 2020 sentencing memo. “A vaccine is likely more than a year away, and perhaps much longer. A term of incarceration would substantially increase Mr. Silver’s risk of infection.”

The Bureau of Prisons does not reveal information related to the cause of death for any inmate, spokesperson Randilee Giamusso told The Center Square in an email.

“The official cause of death is determined by the medical examiner and not the Bureau of Prisons,” Giamusso added.

In May 2021, The New York Times reported that Silver was furloughed for two days as he sought to serve the remainder of his sentence from his home under federal COVID guidelines. He returned to custody after that request was denied.