Sheldon Silver accused of blocking bills to aid sexually abused kids after Catholic group hired his longtime aid as a lobbyist
By Kenneth Lovett (NY Daily News)
April 9, 2016
ALBANY — Disgraced ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was all about pay to play — and sexually abused kids were the ones to pay the price.
Silver stopped pushing for a bill to aid victims of predators after the state Catholic Conference hired his former long-time aide as a lobbyist, says a controversial former lawyer who has taken on the Church.
John Aretakis, of upstate Troy, made the alarming charge in a scathing letter he sent to a judge who in May will sentence Silver on an unrelated federal corruption conviction.
“Mr. Silver met with and looked into the eyes of many victims of clergy sexual abuse, and he promised his continuing support. ... As soon as money lined his pockets, or the pocket of his trusted and loyal allies, he dropped us,” he wrote.
Aretakis, who as a lawyer and victim’s advocate represented a host of clients who sued the Catholic Church over abuse cases, wrote that Silver had been a supporter of a bill to extend the age that an adult who was sexually abused as a kid could bring a case.
The Assembly passed the bill three times — the last time in 2008.
Aretakis wrote that he met with Silver each year between 2004 and 2006 to discuss the bill, which the then-powerful pol “bragged” had passed the Assembly several times with over 100 votes even as it stalled in the Senate.
That changed after the lobbying firm owned by Patricia Lynch, who previously was a longtime Silver aide, took on the Catholic Church as a client, Aretakis wrote. The Church was aggressively lobbying against the bill.
State records show that Patricia Lynch & Associates was first hired by the state Catholic Conference in 2009 — the same year the Democrats briefly took control of the chamber and had considered taking up the measure.
Then-Senate Codes Committee Chairman Eric Schneiderman, now the state attorney general, tried to move the bill out of committee but the vote fell short and the measure died.
The Assembly last passed the bill in 2008, months before Lynch’s firm was hired by the Catholic Conference.
“Once Ms. Lynch lobbied for the Catholic Conference, Mr. Silver’s support for our bill ended, and the bill did not come out of the Assembly’s Codes Committee ... which as speaker, he controlled,” Aretakis wrote.
Aretakis said he penned the missive in an attempt to counteract any messages of support seeking a light sentence filed on Silver’s behalf by those “that have benefited from Mr. Silver’s largesse over the decades.”
He recommended to the judge that Silver be sentenced to 20 years behind bars.
“Victims of sexual abuse as children want Mr. Silver to have sufficient time away to think about how he abandoned his victims...” the letter says. “Allow Mr. Silver to share in the lifetime of pain that he will now have in common with the victims of childhood sexual abuse.”
Silver’s lawyer, Joel Cohen, had no comment when reached Friday. A spokesman for Patricia Lynch & Associates also had no comment.
Aretakis in 2008 was suspended from practicing law for a year after being found guilty of professional misconduct. He had been sanctioned by different judges for “frivolous” courtroom conduct, including pushing for a judge’s recusal from a case by alleging the jurist took part in a criminal conspiracy.
Catholic Conference Dennis Poust dismissed Aretakis as a “person who has had a long-time animus and obsession with the Catholic Church andand obsession with the Catholic Church and has not always been truthful to the facts.”
Poust argued that favoritism toward Lynch by Silver was not the reason the child abuse legislation has not passed the Assembly since 2008.
He said it was because an alternate bill was introduced at the time by then-Assemblyman Vito Lopez that split the Democratic conference in a way where there wasn’t enough votes to pass either proposal.
The first bill by Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Queens) at the time would have increased to 28, up from 23, the age at which someone abused as a child could bring a suit.
Markey has since amended the bill now so that it would completely eliminate the statute of limitations on child sex abuse cases.
It also would have opened a window to give those who can no longer sue under current law a year to bring a lawsuit — a provision the Catholic Church and other private groups like the Boy Scouts vehemently fought for fear it could bankrupt them.
The Lopez bill, a version of which is now carried by Assemblyman Michael Cusick (D-Staten Island), did not include the one-year window for past cases.
“I think what (Silver) saw was that there was no consensus in the conference,” Poust said. “That was pretty clear. It passed earlier when there was no alternative bill, but when the legislators were educated, the conference was basically split as to the best way to handle the issue.”
Another obstacle is the Church’s contention that public institutions like schools should be treated the same as the church and other private and nonprofit organizations.
A victim has just 90 days from the incident to file a notice of claim to sue a government entity.