A day after conviction, Silver puts in for pension

| Rochester Democrat & Chronicle

With his career in public service over, ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver promptly filed for retirement Tuesday — a day after his conviction on corruption charges.

Silver stands to get a pension of as much as $98,000 a year because of his 44 years of public service and a salary that had reached $121,000 when he was collecting his base salary of $79,500 a year and $41,500 as speaker, the Empire Center estimated.

Silver, 71, gets the Cadillac of public pensions: Tier 1, which brings the most benefits to a retiree. New York is already up to Tier VI for new employees, which requires higher contributions and less generous payouts at retirement.

Silver first joined the state pension system on May 24, 1971, when he started his career as a law secretary in state civil court, according to the state Comptroller’s Office, which confirmed that Silver filed for retirement.

Silver was elected to the Assembly in 1977 and was elected by his peers as speaker in 1994 — a post he held until February when he stepped down after his arrest.

Under the state constitution, Silver is entitled to keep his pension despite the conviction, adding to him a lengthy list of convicted politicians who get their taxpayer-funded retirement.

New York’s pension system is paying out about $531,000 a year to 14 former state lawmakers and officials who have been convicted of a crime, Gannett’s Albany Bureau reported in April.

As part of ethics reforms four years ago, the state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo approved a law that allows a judge to order the forfeiture of retirement benefits for elected officials convicted of crimes who took office after 2011.

But a bill that would have let a judge make a broader constitutional change that allows pensions to stripped dating back at least 10 years hasn’t been approved. The Legislature has not agreed on a deal, passing separate versions in the Senate and Assembly of a pension forfeiture bill this year.

Even if the sides reach a deal next year, the measure would change the state constitution. So it would have to be passed by consecutively elected Legislatures, as well as approved by voters at the polls. The earliest that could happen would be 2017.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has sought to go after public officials’ pensions, but it has generally been for officials struggling to pay their fines or restitution. So he was able to dock their pensions.

That likely won’t be the case with Silver, who had $3.8 million from eight different bank accounts seized by the government at the start of his trial Nov. 2.

© 2015 Gannett News Service