Sheldon Silver, the former Democratic Speaker of the Assembly who once dominated New York state politics to see his career end with a federal corruption conviction, was released from prison on Tuesday as he awaits a decision on the possibility of serving his sentence at home.
Mr Silver, 77, had been in prison for less than a year to a six-and-a-half-year sentence when federal officials, using the wiggle room given to them due to the coronavirus pandemic, determined that ‘he was eligible for a temporary absence. while they consider his request to serve the remainder of his sentence in house arrest.
A spokesperson for the United States Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, which continued the case against Mr Silver, said on Tuesday the office had been in contact with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to strongly oppose its possible release.
The prison office declined to comment on Mr. Silver’s status.
“For reasons of confidentiality, safety and security, we are not discussing release plans for any inmate to include leave status where appropriate,” the office said in a statement.
Mr. Silver, who was first elected to the State Assembly in 1976 and became president in 1994, could not be reached for comment and a lawyer representing him did not respond to a request for comments.
Judy Rapfogel, Mr Silver’s former chief of staff, confirmed on Tuesday evening that he was at his Grand Street home on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. “His community is extremely grateful that he is back home,” Ms. Rapfogel said.
Images published by the New York Post showed Mr. Silver, appearing thin and frail and wearing a baseball cap, sportswear and a blue surgical mask, being guided in a wheelchair to his home.
Yuh-Line Niou, a Democratic MP who now represents the region that was Mr. Silver’s political stronghold, said “No New Yorker should die from the pandemic in prison.”
“We should take steps to ensure that all New Yorkers incarcerated in populations at risk are safe from Covid-19,” she said. “Our prisons have been and still are hotspots for the virus, and we must remain vigilant on tackling the coronavirus in our prison system.”
Mr Silver was first sentenced to 14 years in prison after being convicted in 2015 of accepting nearly $ 4 million in bribes in exchange for using his post for the benefit of a researcher on cancer and two real estate developers. But the case took several turns before Mr. Silver finally showed up to federal prison in Otisville, New York, last August.
His conviction was overturned on appeal in 2017, a year after a Supreme Court ruling overturned a political corruption conviction in Virginia and narrowed the legal definition of corruption.
Mr Silver was retried in 2018, re-sentenced and sentenced to seven years in prison. In 2019, an appeals court overturned part of his conviction, while upholding another. (In January, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, allowing the conviction to stand.)
At the time of Mr Silver’s conviction last summer, his lawyers, citing his history of cancer and chronic kidney disease, demanded that he be allowed to avoid jail and serve a house sentence. They argued that imprisonment would increase his chances of getting sick or even dying from the coronavirus.
“Your honor, I don’t want to die in jail,” wrote Mr. Silver to the judge in charge of the case, Valerie E. Caproni of the Federal District Court in Manhattan.
But Judge Caproni, saying Mr Silver was guilty of “corruption, outright,” said “a sentence without prison is simply not appropriate.”
And when Mr Silver’s attorney requested that his client be allowed to extend his surrender date to jail, Judge Caproni refused. “Mr. Silver, his time has come,” she said. “He has to go to jail.”
The Bureau of Prisons has placed nearly 25,000 home prisoners since last March amid the pandemic, and more than 7,000 were in house arrest on Tuesday, agency statistics showed.
Whether or not a prisoner is released depends largely on senior officials in the office and individual directors. In addition to age and potential vulnerability to the virus, other factors that may be taken into account include the length of a prisoner’s sentence being served.
Mr. Silver is not the only high-profile Otisville prisoner who attempted to serve his sentence at home.
Michael D. Cohen, former personal attorney for President Donald J. Trump, is completing his sentence of house arrest for a conviction in 2018 for campaign finance violations and other crimes. And last August, Dean G. Skelos, the former Republican leader of the New York State Senate, was placed under house arrest for the remainder of his sentence on a political corruption conviction.
Jesse McKinley and William K. Rashbaum contribution to reports.