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Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver before the fall

Sheldon Silver, 76, the former Speaker of the New York State Assembly who was convicted of corruption, on August 26 reported to federal prison at Otisville, New York, to begin serving his sentence of 6.5 years. According to the NY Post, which followed Silver’s fall from grace with unabashed glee (possibly because the Speaker refused to purchase campaign ads), reported on Saturday that the elderly inmates at Otisville prison are comparing it to a “coronavirus death camp (Sheldon Silver at upstate prison some inmates call coronavirus death camp).”

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Otisville has reported 42 coronavirus cases, 28 inmates and 14 staff. No pandemic-related death has been reported.

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The Legal Aid Society last Mat sued the Otisville Correctional Facility, a state prison near the federal facility, on behalf of 15 inmates with pre-existing conditions, arguing they should be allowed to serve out their sentences at home.

The lawsuit, filed in Orange County State Supreme Court, argues that “packed in close quarters with other inmates and corrections staff, plaintiffs are often forced to share necessities with others, despite the high-risk setting. They are deprived of basic forms of protection such as sufficient soap and hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, masks and gloves.”

Silver, an Orthodox Jew and a prominent leader of Manhattan’s Lower East Side Jewish community, served as Assembly Speaker from 1994 until his fall from grace, and was considered the most powerful Democrat in the state in the years when NY had a Republican governor and Republican mayors. He was reelected 11 times, usually with about 80% of the votes.

On January 7, 2015, Silver was re-elected Speaker for the 11th time, despite an ongoing federal investigation of his outside income as rainmaker for a small legal firm that focused on co-ops. Two weeks later, on January 22, Silver was arrested on federal corruption charges. On November 30, 2015, a unanimous jury found Silver guilty on all seven counts, and was expelled from the Assembly.

On May 3, 2016, a federal judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York sentenced Silver to 12 years in prison, and ordered him to pay $5.3 million in ill-gotten gains and $1.75 million in additional fines. Silver received 12 years for six criminal counts against him and 10 years on the seventh, to run concurrently.

Later in 2016, a Supreme Court decision on McDonnell v. United States narrowed the definition of corruption, and consequently, on July 13, 2017, Silver’s conviction was overturned by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan.

On May 11, 2018, he was found guilty on all seven counts, and on July 27, 2018, he was sentenced to seven years in prison, five years less than the original sentence (by the same judge). The reason the judge cited for cutting Silver’s sentence was his advanced age.

Silver then once again in 2018 appealed his conviction to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

On January 21, 2020, the Court of Appeals unanimously dismissed the three charges against Silver but upheld four, sending the case back to the lower court for sentencing. Silver was re-sentenced on July 20 t to ​6.5 years in prison and a fine of $1 million.

According to the NY Post, many of Otisville’s elderly inmates have pre-existing conditions which leave them more susceptible to the pandemic. Neal Sher, an attorney who lobbying for the “compassionate release” of elderly inmates, told the Post: “These are people who are elderly with serious underlying conditions and it’s just mind-boggling that the prison is not adhering to the US attorney general’s directives. The real threat is that this is a death sentence.”

One prisoner Sher is trying to free from his dangerous confinement behind bar is Rabbi Mendel Epstein, 75, who was convicted in 2015 with two other Orthodox rabbis of the kidnapping and torture of Jewish men who refused to award their ex-wives a Jewish get. Epstein’s release date is in 2024.

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