Federal prosecutors are continuing to try to make their case to a jury in the federal corruption trial of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Today, a key piece of evidence was a hand-written note by a top Assembly policy advisor, who now serves as budget director for Mayor Bill de Blasio. At issue is whether Silver steered a grant to cancer research in exchange for kickbacks. Zack Fink has more from the court room.
In testimony during Silver's corruption trial in lower Manhattan, prosecutors produced a document from January 2004, requesting a $250,000 grant for a mesothelioma research center out of Columbia University run by Dr. Robert Taub.
The government claims Silver steered public money to Taub in exchange for referrals of cancer patients who Silver presented to the private law firm "Weitz and Luxenberg," where Silver served as "of counsel."
For every patient Taub passed along to Silver, the former Assembly speaker received a referral fee from the firm. Those fees addded up to more than $3 million over nearly a decade.
While the grant proposal was pro forma, a handwritten note at the top of the application read, "This is very important to Shelly." It was signed by Dean Fuleihan — a top advisor to Silver who is now Mayor Bill de Blasio's budget director.
Prosecutors were attempting to demonstrate that despite the hundreds of grant requests the Assembly considers each year, this particular one for Taub had special significance to Silver because it set him down the path to receiving lucrative referrals.
Prosecutors also maintained that the grants came out of a specific pool of money with very little public scrutiny or oversight. Silver stopped sending Taub grants in 2007, after then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer pushed through a budget reform act, which brought greater accountability to how state money gets allocated.
Silver declined to say whether he thought the day's testimony favored the defense of prosecution.
"I think you've got to be in the courtroom," Silver said. "The jury will determine the good days. I believe I will be vindicated, I have believed that from the beginning and I have no reason to think otherwise."
During testimony Monday afternoon, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was in the courtroom. It was the first time he has been physically present at the proceedings since opening arguments last week.