Steve Witkoff, Las Vegas The Drew Casino Owner, Testifies Against Former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver

Posted on: May 14, 2018, 11:30h. 

Last updated on: May 14, 2018, 11:30h.

The Drew Las Vegas casino owner Steve Witkoff recently testified against former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in a trial that ultimately led to the ex-lawmaker being found guilty of using his office for his own financial gain. Silver faces a potential 130-year prison sentence.

Steve Witkoff Sheldon Silver The Drew
New York real estate developer and now Las Vegas casino owner Steve Witkoff (left) runs with an elite political crowd, as made evident by this recent appearance with President Donald Trump. Witkoff testified against another political powerhouse and former business associate, Sheldon Silver, in the courtroom this month. (Image: WH.gov)

Witkoff’s real estate development group and Miami-based investment firm New Valley LLC purchased The Drew last summer from billionaire Carl Icahn for $600 million. The property, which was constructed as the Fontainebleau at a cost of nearly $3 billion, remains unfinished.

During a week-and-a-half-long trial that brought more than two dozen witnesses to the stand, Witkoff told the jury he was unaware that fees paid by his company to a lawyer were being shared with Silver, the then-speaker of the New York State Assembly.

Prosecutors successfully argued that Silver directed Witkoff’s company to hire attorney Jay Goldberg’s law firm for its tax business. Unbeknownst to Witkoff, Goldberg was giving kickbacks to Silver for the referrals.

Witkoff — as well as real estate firm Glenwood Management — both donated money to lobbying efforts supporting Silver’s political career. One of the most powerful lawmakers in New York politics, Silver held the title of Assembly speaker between 1994 and 2015.

Prosecutors allege Silver’s kickbacks totaled $4 million.

The corruption investigation was initiated by Preet Bharara, the former US attorney in Manhattan. Bharara is best-known in the casino industry for leading poker’s 2011 Black Friday, which saw three internet poker platforms seized by the federal government.  

Silver Found Guilty (Again)

A 12-person jury found Sheldon Silver guilty last Friday on all seven counts, including two counts of honest services mail fraud, as well as money laundering. The 74-year-old faces 130 years in prison when he’s sentenced July 13.

Silver successfully appealed a 2015 conviction on similar charges, after an appeals court cited a recent US Supreme Court decision that redefined an “official act” by an elected official to not include setting up meetings and events.

The appeals court said the earlier ruling was based on legal definitions that had since changed. But what hadn’t changed was the federal bribery statute that makes it a crime for a politician to “receive or accept anything of value” in exchange for an official act.

“I didn’t want to do anything that might alienate Mr. Silver,” Witkoff testified about using Goldberg’s law firm to stay in Silver’s good graces.

“Mr. Silver was the speaker and he was extremely powerful. Not somebody you want to make not like you,” Glenwood attorney Richard Runes added.

Not New York’s Finest

Sheldon Silver is part of a growing list of New York officials to see their political careers end in disgrace.

Last week, the state’s DFS-opposed Attorney General Eric Schneiderman resigned amid sexual misconduct allegations, which he denies, but said would interfere with his office’s work. Four women claimed they were subjected to verbal and physical abuse by Schneiderman, along with nonconsensual sex.

Schneiderman sought to eliminate daily fantasy sports from New York when he threatened DraftKings and FanDuel with roughly $3 billion in fines. The case was later settled, and New York passed DFS legislation to authorize the contests.

DraftKings just announced this morning that it will enter the US sportsbetting market following Monday’s SCOTUS overturn of the PASPA sports betting ban.