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Sheldon Silver sentenced to 7 years in prison

Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, once one of New York's most powerful politicians, will spend the next seven years in prison for accepting $4 million in illicit payments.

ALBANY — Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, once one of New York's most powerful politicians, was sentenced Friday to seven years in federal prison for taking in $4 million in illicit payments during his time in office.

U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni handed down the sentence in Manhattan federal court, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for New York's Southern District.

Silver, D-Manhattan, was convicted in May of seven felonies connected to a pair of schemes that saw him pocket lucrative legal referral fees that originated from a Columbia University cancer researcher and two real-estate firms that benefitted from Silver's state actions.

The 74-year-old former lawmaker held the powerful title of Assembly speaker for two decades before stepping down after his arrest in 2015, serving as one of Albany's infamous "three men in a room" that negotiate budget agreements and major pieces of legislation.

In a statement, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said Silver used his influential position to "pad his bank account and line his pockets."

"We hope today’s fittingly stiff sentence sends a clear message: brokering official favors for your personal benefit is illegal and will result in prison time," Berman said.

Prosecutors were seeking a prison term of at least 10 years.

In a letter to Caproni last week, Silver asked for mercy, saying he was "deeply sorry" for his conduct but not acknowledging what he did was criminal.

Silver, who has reserved his right to appeal, was seeking a short prison term followed by community service, with his legal team asking Caproni to consider allowing him to staff a "help desk" to assist New York residents in navigating the state's bureaucracy.

"I worry about my own age and health," Silver wrote to Caproni. "I pray I will not die in prison."

The schemes Silver was convicted of went like this: The Columbia researcher and the two politically connected real-estate firms directed people who were seeking legal help to Silver, who then referred them to a pair of law firms that paid him referral fees.

Silver then took action in Albany that benefitted the researcher and the real-estate firms, including sending state grants worth $500,000 to the researcher, who specialized in mesothelioma, a form of cancer.

It was the second time Silver was convicted of the crimes.

He was originally sentenced to 12 years in prison after he was convicted of the same seven felonies in 2015. But his conviction and sentence were overturned when the U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the corruption law he was charged under.

Prosecutors, however, were allowed to retry Silver under the narrowed definition and jurors returned a guilty verdict in the retrial in May.