Sheldon Silver, Disgraced Assembly Speaker, Is Furloughed From Prison

The longtime Democratic leader was released to home confinement after less than a year of a six-and-a-half year sentence on corruption charges.

Sheldon Silver, who was sentenced last July, was furloughed while officials consider his request to serve the rest of his sentence at home.
Credit...John Minchillo/Associated Press

Ed Shanahan and

Update: Sheldon Silver was ordered back to prison on Thursday.

Sheldon Silver, the former Democratic Assembly speaker who once dominated New York State politics only to have his career end in a conviction on federal corruption charges, was released from prison on Tuesday as he awaits a decision on whether he can complete his sentence at home.

Mr. Silver, 77, had been in prison for less than a year of a six-and-a-half-year sentence when federal officials, using the leeway afforded them because of the coronavirus pandemic, determined that he was eligible to be furloughed while they consider his request to serve the rest of his sentence under home confinement.

A spokesman for the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan, which prosecuted the case against Mr. Silver, said on Tuesday that the office had been in contact with the federal Bureau of Prisons to strongly oppose his possible release.

The prisons bureau declined to comment on Mr. Silver’s status.

“For privacy, safety, and security reasons, we do not discuss release plans for any inmate to include furlough status where applicable,” the bureau said in a statement.

Mr. Silver, who was first elected to the State Assembly in 1976 and became speaker in 1994, could not be reached for comment, and a lawyer representing him did not respond to a request for comment.

Judy Rapfogel, Mr. Silver’s former chief of staff, confirmed on Tuesday evening that he was at his Grand Street home on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. “His community is extremely thankful that’s he’s back home,” Ms. Rapfogel said.

Pictures published by The New York Post showed Mr. Silver, looking thin and frail and wearing a baseball cap, exercise clothes and a blue surgical mask, being guided in a wheelchair into his home.

Yuh-Line Niou, a Democrat who now represents the Assembly district that was Mr. Silver’s political stronghold, said that “no New Yorker should die from the pandemic while in jail.”

“We should be taking steps for all incarcerated New Yorkers in at-risk populations to be safe from Covid-19,” she said. “Our prisons have been and are still hot spots for the virus, and we need to remain vigilant about combating coronavirus in our prison system.”

Mr. Silver was initially sentenced to 14 years in prison after being convicted in 2015 of accepting nearly $4 million in illicit payments in return for using his position to help benefit a cancer researcher and two real estate developers. But the case took several turns before Mr. Silver finally reported to the federal prison in Otisville, N.Y., last August.

His conviction was overturned on appeal in 2017, a year after a Supreme Court decision vacated a political corruption conviction in Virginia and narrowed the legal definition of corruption.

Mr. Silver was retried in 2018, convicted again and sentenced to seven years in prison. In 2019, an appeals court overturned one portion of his conviction, while upholding another. (In January, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, allowing the conviction to stand.)

At the time of Mr. Silver’s sentencing last summer, his lawyers, citing his history of cancer and chronic kidney disease, asked that he be allowed to avoid prison and serve a term of home confinement. They argued that imprisonment would increase his chances of becoming ill or even dying from the coronavirus.

“Your honor, I do not want to die in prison,” Mr. Silver wrote to the judge overseeing the case, Valerie E. Caproni of Federal District Court in Manhattan.

But Judge Caproni, saying Mr. Silver was guilty of “corruption, pure and simple,” said a “nonjail sentence is simply not appropriate.”

And when Mr. Silver’s lawyer asked that his client be allowed to delay his surrender date to prison, Judge Caproni refused. “Mr. Silver, his time has come,” she said. “He needs to go to jail.”

The Bureau of Prisons has placed nearly 25,000 prisoners on home confinement since last March amid the pandemic, and more than 7,000 were under home confinement as of Tuesday, according to the agency’s statistics.

Whether to release a prisoner is largely up to top bureau officials and individual wardens. In addition to age and potential vulnerability to the virus, other factors that may be considered include how much of a prisoner’s sentence has been served.

Mr. Silver is not the only high-profile Otisville prisoner who has sought to serve his sentence at home.

Michael D. Cohen, President Donald J. Trump’s former personal lawyer, is completing his sentence on home confinement for a 2018 conviction on campaign finance violations and other crimes. And last August, Dean G. Skelos, the former Republican leader of the New York State Senate, was placed on home confinement for the balance of his sentence on a political corruption conviction.

Jesse McKinley and William K. Rashbaum contributed reporting.