Justice delayed for Shelly Silver | New York Post

Shelly Silver will stay out of jail for what looks to be another year, thanks to US District Court Judge Valerie Caproni’s ruling Thursday that the disgraced former Assembly speaker can remain free on bail pending his appeal of his landmark corruption conviction.

But it’s justice delayed, not denied — yet. And he still must start making payments on the $7 million he owes in fines and restitution as a result of his conviction.

Sheldon Silver avoids jail for at least another year
Sheldon Silver avoids jail for at least another year
What’s up? Caprioni saw a decent chance that Silver could win his appeal thanks to the recent Supreme Court ruling that tossed the conviction of Virginia ex-Gov. Bob McDonnell.

But that’s far from a sure thing — because the crimes that earned Silver a 12-year bribery sentence were markedly different from the McDonnell case.

The high court let the Virginian off because he hadn’t actually provided official actions in exchange for the gifts he received from a businessman.

Silver, by contrast, plainly did abuse his office: most notably, to funnel $500,000 in state funds to a doctor who then referred patients to Silver’s law firm, for which the firm paid the speaker millions.

That leaves Silver’s lawyers hoping to make a procedural case — namely, that because Caprioni didn’t define “official action” for the jury, his conviction might be tainted.

We trust US Attorney Preet Bharara’s team can persuade the courts otherwise. Sheldon Silver plainly belongs in prison.


From my Samsung S6

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State senator tries taking down challenger by alleging Trump ties | New York Post

State senator tries taking down challenger by alleging Trump ties
By Carl Campanile August 23, 2016

A Bronx state senator has sent out a campaign mailer linking his Democratic primary rival to Donald Trump — even though the challenger has spoken out against the Republican presidential nominee.

The mailer sent to voters shows a picture of Councilman Fernando Cabrera, who is challenging Sen. Gustavo Rivera, next to a photo of Trump.

But the mailer — with the headline “Tell Me Who Your Friends Are and I’ll Tell You Who You Are” — does not identify who paid for it.

After The Post inquired about the mailing, Rivera’s campaign owned up to its responsibility.

Cabrera, who is also a minister, participated in a rally outside City Hall last December to denounce Trump’s comments on immigrations and Muslims.

“This is a smear,” said Cabrera campaign manager Michael Olmeda.

“Rivera is doing what Trump does — he’s being a bully.”


Michael Benjamin

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Court’s ruling on corrupt NY pols’ pensions is long overdue | New York Post

Corrupt New York pols who dream of retiring with fat, taxpayer-provided pensions just took a big hit in court.

Score one for justice and common sense.

On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the 2d US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that pensions of convicted lawmakers can be seized — even though the state Constitution prevents those egg nests from being “diminished or impaired.”

US Attorney Preet Bharara has been targeting the retirement pay of legislators he’s convicted, rightly calling it a “galling injustice” that crooked pols continue to collect cushy pensions until “their dying day.”

The two corrupt former legislative leaders, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, are in line for $80,000 and $96,000 respectively.

But the judges said disgraced former Assemblyman Eric Stevenson must surrender the $22,000 he paid into the system because the state Constitution is “pre-empted” by federal law, which allows “forfeiture” of property derived from a crime “irrespective of any provision of State law.”

In 2011, Albany stripped newly elected legislators of their pensions if convicted. But they couldn’t touch those already in office, like Silver and Skelos, because of the state Constitution.

This year, after much kicking and screaming, the Legislature OK’d a constitutional amendment to allow the pensions of corrupt veteran pols to be seized retroactively. But it wouldn’t take effect for at least several years. Which makes the 2d Circuit’s ruling all that more important.

Crooked pols have long rested easy knowing they had a taxpayer-funded cushion to fall back on if they got caught. That cushion was just yanked from under them.


Michael Benjamin

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Court ruling could allow feds to seize Silver and Skelos’ pensions | NY Post

Court ruling could allow feds to seize Silver and Skelos’ pensions By Kaja Whitehouse August 17, 2016 | 2:46pm

A federal Court of Appeals ruling Wednesday ​could pave the way for​ federal authorities to seize the state-protected pensions of corrupt politicians like Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos.

The ruling, in the case of convicted former ​Bronx ​Assemblyman Eric Stevenson, found that his pension contributions are fair game as the feds seek to recoup $22,000 in ill-gotten gains.

The court sided with the government’s argument that federal law trumps state constitutional protections of retirement funds when it comes to forfeiture.

“Convicted politicians should lose pensions paid for by taxpayers they betrayed,” Manhattan US Attorney​ Preet​ Bharara tweeted about the ruling.

Bharara said he was going to start going after pensions in 2013 when testifying before the now-defunct Moreland Commission, which was established by Gov​. Andrew Cuomo to go after public corruption.

And he made Stevenson a test case.

Bharara told the Moreland Commission that his office had just adopted a new set of policies to go after public officials’ pensions – starting with Stevenson, a former member of the Bronx New York Assembly, and disgraced ex-state Sen​. Malcolm Smith, both of whom were arrested on corruption charges that year.

“A galling injustice that sticks in the craw of every thinking New Yorker is the almost inviolable right of even the most corrupt elected official – even after being convicted by a jury and jailed by a judge – to draw a publicly-funded pension until his dying day,” Bharara said at the time.

Bharara blamed New York state lawmakers for protecting corrupt politicians’ pensions.

“That error of state law, partially fixed a couple of years ago, must succumb to common sense. The common-sense principle is a simple one: Convicted politicians should not grow old comfortably cushioned by a pension paid for by the very people they betrayed in office.”

On Wednesday, the New York Appeals Court said it agreed with Bharara and ruled that Stevenson’s pension should be considered an asset that could be tapped toward the $22,000 in ill-gotten gains he was ordered to forfeit. The court cited federal law, saying it trumps state laws protecting pensions.

“Stevenson argues that identifying his pension plan contributions as a substitute asset and permitting seizure by the Government was error as those contributions are protected by… the New York State Constitution,” said the three-judge panel. “We disagree,” the judges said.

Wednesday’s ruling by the New York Appeals Court gives corrupt politicians like Sheldon Silver, former speaker of the Assembly, and Dean Skelos, a former state Senator, le​​ss wiggle room to appeal the money they have been ordered to fork over, which is based in part on both of their pensions.

At former ​state Senate Majority Leader Skelos’ sentencing, prosecutor Jason Masimore warned that Skelos’s “victims are going to keep paying Dean Skelos under his pension agreement,” that requested that his fine be reflective of that.

Judge Kimba Wood agreed and ordered a fine of $500,000, which she said was more than one-half that value of his pre-tax pension.

Disgraced ex-Assembly​ Speaker Silver’s $70,000 a year pension was also taken into account was ordered to fork over $5.3 million in illegal profits on top of a $1.75 million fine.

“Mr. Silver’s New York pension, which he filed for just days after being convicted, has a present value of approximately $850,000. I have taken that into account in setting the fine,” Judge Valerie Caproni said at his sentencing in May.

Michael Benjamin
Contributor: NY Post / City and State NY
Twitter: @SquarePegDem

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Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson should fall from public safety chair | NY Daily News Editorial

Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson let stand a report that she called a precinct commander to quash a ticket for dangerous driving — in string-pulling that demonstrates unfitness to continue as chair of the City Council Public Safety Committee.

Officer Michele Hernandez says she pulled Gibson over after spotting her talking on the phone behind the wheel in 2014, a scant three months into Gibson’s term.

Gibson faced a fine of up to $200 and five license points. But, unlike typical New Yorkers, she had the pull to dodge accountability, Hernandez revealed in a lawsuit that accuses the NYPD of retaliating against her for failing to meet summons quotas.

The NYPD denies such quotas exist but has said nothing to dispute its officer’s account of the Gibson encounter.

Hernandez says Gibson used the cellphone to call a precinct commander , sparking an order to nix the ticket. Gibson even put Hernandez on the phone with him to make sure she got the message.

Asked for comment by The News, Gibson refused the chance to call the cop’s account false. She said that she “does not recall” any such incident, but “always takes very seriously and complies with all of our traffic laws.”

Amnesia sets in with disclosure of a double dereliction. Dereliction one: Gibson anointed herself above the law by virtue of her position and special access to NYPD brass, demanding special treatment unavailable to her constituents.

Dereliction two: Driving while speaking on a phone is not just a violation of state law; it is downright deadly, increasing fourfold the chances of a crash.

Gibson well knew how deadly, because just two weeks prior to her NYPD run-in she had presided over a City Council hearing on Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan to reduce traffic fatalities.

Her opening remarks spoke of safety’s urgency: “ We must do more to ensure that these horrific accidents no longer happen across our streets.”

Family members of pedestrian crash victims then tearfully recounted their loved ones’ horrifying last moments.

Said the uncle of a child mowed down by a cabbie: “There’s no moral difference between driving drunk and driving in an incompetent manner for another reason, whether you’re smoking pot, using a cell phone, road rage, impatience or turning into a crosswalk without looking.”

Gibson might not recall that lacerating message, however. She had left the Council chambers. Now, she should leave her committee chair.


Michael Benjamin
Twitter: @SquarePegDem

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Legislating Without Legislation | Politico

The legislators who backed the least legislation this year
By BILL MAHONEY 08/02/16

ALBANY — For most legislators in the capital, introducing legislation is a very common activity.

In this year’s session, there were 16,601 active bills, an increase from 15,912 in 2014 and 15,881 in 2012. That’s likely enough for New York to keep its title as the home to the most legislation: In 2004, the Brennan Center for Justice found that the 16,892 bills in the previous session doubled any other state’s total. (That year’s runner-ups Illinois and Massachusetts are at 13,676 and 7,019 this year).

Of the 212 individuals to serve in the Legislature in 2016, 211 contributed to this total. The only exception was longtime Assemblymember José Rivera, who was not listed as the prime sponsor of any pieces of legislation. This isn’t too atypical for the former Bronx Democratic boss and frequent videographer.

The only bill Rivera has sponsored in the past four years was a 2015 measure that extended the life of a law that lets the Bronx Zoo offer a day of free admission until 2020.

He had six bills in the 2011-2012 session. Three of these became law — one changing the name of a food assistance program, another extending New York City’s lease with the New York Botanical Garden and a third extending the Bronx Zoo’s free admission day until 2015.

Rivera sponsored no legislation in 2010, and his only bill in 2009 extended the zoo’s free admission day for three years.

The Bronx lawmaker’s last big spurt of legislative activity came when he sponsored 20 measures in 2008, including a bill that would have made the Department of Transportation put signs on the highway near Albany alerting drivers to the exit they should take to get to Crossgates Mall, and legislation that would have required reflectors on lane markings on the Adirondack Northway.

Rivera did not return requests for comment made Monday.

Read more >> http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/08/legislating-without-legislation-104409

Michael Benjamin

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Pay hike must be earned – The Observation Deck | Times-Union

Although the commission has another four months to make a formal recommendation, the proposal on the table calls for raising that base pay to $116,900 annually. Unless the Legislature returns to Albany for a special session to stop it – an unlikely scenario – the raises take effect next year.

When you consider inflation and the fact that other state employees, including judges, have seen their salaries rise over the years, it would seem only fair that members of the Legislature get some kind of pay increase. Still, the notion of lawmakers just sitting back and letting their hefty raises go through is a bit hard to swallow. It’s especially unsettling when you consider that just this year both the former leaders of the Assembly and the Senate were sentenced to prison terms after being convicted of felonies committed while they were in office. The two are among 29 state lawmakers convicted of various offenses in the past dozen years.

Lawmakers should do the right thing and reject any recommended increases until they demonstrate they are worthy of the raises by passing meaningful reforms aimed at cleaning up Albany.

Whatever happened to the idea that raises in pay should be earned?


Michael Benjamin

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Brooklyn Hospital’s Sale, Backed by de Blasio and Cuomo, Is Drawing Federal Scrutiny – NYTimes.com

On Friday evening, the NY Times posted a news story claiming that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and others in his administration received federal subpoenas in the matter of the sale of Long Island College Hospital (Brooklyn) in 2014.

I’d think that Governor Cuomo received a subpoena as well as did Mayor de Blasio. Please note that being subpoenaed is proof of nothing.

A key excerpt from the New York Times report:

"A developer, Fortis Property Group, which had been favored by SUNY, bought the hospital, with the sale completed in 2015. Prosecutors are seeking information related to the sale and, in particular, communications between SUNY and top City Hall officials or those associated with the mayor’s nonprofit group, Campaign for One New York, about the hospital’s fate, according to the subpoena, dated July 14 and described by an official who had seen it.

"The subpoena names Mr. de Blasio; Anthony E. Shorris, the first deputy mayor; four top mayoral aides; and Ross Offinger, who had been finance director of the mayor’s 2013 campaign, according to the official, who requested anonymity citing the continuing federal investigation."


Michael Benjamin

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How de Blasio’s nursing home scandal compares to Watergate | New York Post

How de Blasio’s nursing home scandal compares to Watergate

By Michael Gartland and Bruce Golding July 27, 2016 | 10:50pm

Mayor de Blasio made a major mistake, political experts said Wednesday, by invoking the infamous cover-up of the break-in at the Democratic headquarters at the Watergate hotel on June 17, 1972 — a criminal enterprise that toppled President Richard Nixon — in trying to dismiss the scandal over his administration’s handling of the Rivington House AIDS facility sale to a private developer.

“Trying to make jokes about what is daily becoming a more serious scandal in front of a national audience is not the wisest move,” Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf said, adding, “it just appears that things are out of control.” and noted that the last two mayors who got overtaken by events — Abe Beame and David Dinkins, de Blaiso’s political mentor — both got ousted by the voters.

Republican consultant Evan Siegried, author of upcoming campaign how-to book “GOP GPS,” said he was shocked by Hizzoner’s cavalier sarcasm. “It’s amazing that he finds it amusing and can mock this investigation while quality of life is on the decline, street homelessness is on the rise and New Yorkers don’t believe the city is better off than when he took office three years ago,” Siegfried said.

Here’s a look at how all the mayor’s ‘Men’ stack up against Nixon’s:

Man in charge

Richard Nixon, 37th president. Only US president to quit the job (Aug. 9, 1974), which he did to avoid impeachment over the Watergate scandal. Later received a full pardon from successor, Gerald Ford. Tag line: “I am not a crook.” Died in 1994.

Bill de Blasio, 109th New York City mayor. Facing several corruption investigations by US Attorney Preet Bharara and other authorities over his fund-raising operations and suspected “pay to play” practices. Tag line: “We are very, very careful about doing things in a legal and appropriate manner.”

Legal eagle

John Mitchell, attorney general. Former Nixon law partner who resigned from the Justice Department to run the Committee to Re-Elect the President. Imprisoned for 19 months for approving the Watergate break-in and payoffs to keep it quiet. Died in 1988.

Zachary Carter, corporation counsel. Accused of stonewalling a Department of Investigation probe into the Rivington House deal and of turning over records only after being threatened with a DOI lawsuit.

Right-hand man

H.R. “Bob” Halderman, White House chief of staff. Fearsome former ad exec-turned-White House gatekeeper who once boasted that he was “the president’s son-of-a-bitch.” Imprisoned for 18 months for conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Died in 1993.

Anthony Shorris, first deputy mayor. De Blasio’s second-in-command. Leaked memos revealed that Shorris knew about the lifting of the Rivington House deed restriction in May 2015, despite City Hall claims that officials didn’t find out until the building was sold in February.


John Ehrlichman, president’s assistant for domestic affairs. Oversaw the “plumbers” who broke into DNC office at the Watergate. Also approved burglary of the office of “Pentagon Papers” leaker Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist. Got 18-month prison term. Died in 1999.

Emma Wolfe, director of intergovernmental affairs. Former student activist and political organizer who was de Blasio’s chief of staff when he was public advocate and helped run his campaign for mayor. Slapped with subpoenas tied to the mayor’s fund-raising operation.

Bag man

G. Gordon Liddy, general counsel to CREEP. Ex-FBI agent-turned-political dirty trickster who paid the gang of “plumbers” and conspired in the Ellsberg case. Served about 4 ¹/₂ years in the slammer.

Ross Offinger, ex-finance director of New Yorkers for de Blasio and treasurer of Hizzoner’s since-shuttered Campaign for One New York, at the center of his probe. Subpoenaed over de Blasio’s fund-raising operations, including an alleged scheme to evade contribution limits in a failed bid to have Democrats seize control of the state Senate.


John Dean, White House counsel. Testified before a Senate committee in 1973 that he had warned Nixon the Watergate cover-up was a “cancer on the presidency” three months earlier. Spent four months in prison.

Mark Peters, city Dept. of Investigation commissioner. Named the city’s official corruption watchdog after serving as de Blasio’s campaign treasurer. Recused himself from corruption probes involving the mayor to avoid a conflict of interest, but authorized a suit against the Law Department if it failed to assist in the Rivington House probe.


Michael Benjamin

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Bill de Blasio’s own Watergate | New York Post


Bill de Blasio’s own Watergate
By Post Editorial Board July 27, 2016

It may be too early to say how many City Hall staffers should lose their jobs — or perhaps go to jail — over the rancid Rivington House scandal. But it can start with Zachary Carter, the Law Department chief.

Carter purposely withheld relevant information from a city probe into just how City Hall OK’d turning a Lower East Side hospice into condos.

Despite a request five months ago by the Department of Investigation, Carter failed to provide “all relevant documents,” says Inspector General Jodi Franzese. Instead, the Law Department sent in pages that whited-out “highly relevant” information.

On Wednesday, Carter’s folks denied that. But the redacted pages suggest he was plainly hiding evidence.

Carter obviously didn’t want to reveal when City Hall learned of plans to remove a deed restriction on the hospice site so it could be used for condos — at a profit of $72 million for the “lucky” seller. That contradicts Mayor de Blasio’s claim he only heard about it after the scandal hit the press.

Franzese notes one document, which DOI found through other sources, showing City Hall involved in the decision-making as far back as 2014. Another had info on the scrapping of another restriction, this one for a Harlem property sold to a firm that donated $10,000 to one of the mayor’s political causes.

DOI says Carter has now finally turned over all the material and agreed to let it access the relevant hard drives. But he only gave in after Franzese’s unprecedented threat to sue the Law Department.

When does one agency have to threaten lawsuits against another?

Executive Order 16 requires city officials to “cooperate fully” with probes and says any “obstruction” is “cause for removal from office” or other “appropriate penalty.” If DOI’s charges against Carter are true, he needs to go.

Others may deserve similar consequences, or worse. But that won’t be clear until DOI, the state attorney general and the US attorney complete their probes.

Ultimately, of course, the buck stops with de Blasio. At the Democratic National Convention Wednesday, he called the whole scandal “ridiculous,” sarcastically joking that it was “bigger than Watergate.”

If the mayor can’t smell the reek rising from the city’s chief lawyer obstructing a probe (not to mention the hospice deal itself), he’s more clueless than we ever imagined.


Michael Benjamin

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