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Jury Hears Opening Statements At Ex-NY Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's Retrial

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Opening statements began Monday in the corruption retrial of former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Silver arrived to a crush of cameras outside federal court Monday, claiming to be in good spirits, CBS2's Andrea Grymes reported.

In opening statements, Assistant U.S. Attorney Damien Williams told jurors that Silver engineered a bribery scheme that allegedly made him $4 million in legal fees. He described the defendant as someone who was "blinded by greed."

Defense attorney Michael Feldberg said there was no proof that Silver pocketed the money in exchange for taking official action. He said accepting the fees was "100 percent legal."

"Everything that happened in this case was not only legal, it was designed to help people," the defense said.

Federal prosecutors allege Silver used his political position and cooked up schemes to line his pockets. One allegedly involved mesothelioma doctor Robert Taub and the law firm Weitz and Luxenberg.

Prosecutors say the doctor would refer his patients to Silver, who would in turn refer them to Weitz and Luxenberg. When the firm would win lawsuits on the patients' behalf, Silver would allegedly collect a large referral fee. In turn, Silver would allegedly secretively steer taxpayer money to the doctor's mesothelioma research.

The feds say it went on for a decade.

Silver's first trial in 2015 ended with a guilty verdict and 12-year prison sentence. That conviction, however, was reversed last July, giving Silver a second chance to avoid possibly spending the rest of his life in prison.

The retrial is likely to largely be a repeat of the last, tailored slightly to conform to a June 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that narrowed the definition of a corrupt act.

The high-court decision reversing the bribery conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell affected public corruption prosecutions across the country and resulted in the reversal of the convictions of Silver and former New York Senate leader Dean Skelos, a Republican, at separate trials. A retrial of Skelos is scheduled for June.

Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who spearheaded the Silver case, tweeted his disappointment last year, writing: "The evidence was strong. The Supreme Court changed the law. I expect Sheldon Silver to be retried and re-convicted."

Silver has insisted he is not guilty.

Silver was first elected to the Assembly in 1976. The former speaker was once known as one of the "three men in a room" who controlled state government for decades.

Silver was allowed to remain free pending his appeal.

(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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