Opening Statements Begin in Sheldon Silver Corruption Trial

Opening arguments got underway Tuesday in the federal corruption trial of former State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Zack Fink filed the following report.

"Power. Greed. Corruption." That was the mantra the lead federal prosecutor repeated over and over again during opening arguments in the corruption trial of Sheldon Silver.

The government also accused Silver of repeatedly lying about his conduct and attempting to keep it hidden from the public.

Silver is charged with theft of honest services, extortion and money laundering in a seven-count indictment.

At issue are two alleged kickback schemes. The first involves Silver secretly steering $500 million in public money to a cancer research program at Columbia University. Silver was then given the names of mesothelioma cancer patients, whom he referred to law firm Weitz and Luxenberg in exchange for referral fees. Silver was listed as "Of Counsel" at the firm.

The second set of allegations claim Silver pressured a major real estate developer with business before the state to use a downtown law firm for tax work. Silver also received payments for referrals.

Silver's defense team countered that all of the conduct is legal under current state law since legislators are allowed to earn unlimited amounts of outside income. Silver's attorney called the prosecution's case "a theory in search of a crime."

After the openings, the government called Westchester Democratic Assemblywoman Amy Paulin as its first witness. Paulin testified that Silver never disclosed to her or members of the Assembly the public money going to cancer research or the referrrals he received in return.

However, on cross-examination, the defense pointed to Paulin's own conflicts. For example, she chaired the Assembly energy committee, even though her husband owned up to $250,000 in Con Edison stock. Also, Paulin sponsored a bill for a vaccine which would have benefitted pharmaceutical company Merck. Her husband owned up to $150,000 in Merck stock.

Paulin admitted she did not disclose these conflicts to Silver or fellow Democrats, but did report them on her financial form.

Earlier in the day, the prosecution and the defense were able to agree of a jury. It consists of nine women, three men and four alternates.

Court resumes Wednesday.

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