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New York’s Disgraced Ex-Speaker Silver Given Prison at Second Resentencing

MANHATTAN (CN) — Resentencing former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to six and a half years in prison, a federal judge refused Monday to sideline the Democrat’s corruption punishment due to the Covid-19 threat.

“The time has come for Mr. Silver to pay the piper,” U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni said during a 45-minute sentencing hearing held in person at the Manhattan courthouse.

Once one of New York’s most powerful politicians, Silver, 76, has remained out of custody on $200,000 bail throughout his two trials, two convictions and continuing appeals.

The Obama-appointed Caproni had handed Silver his first sentence, 12 years, back in 2016. That verdict was overturned, however, in the wake of a Supreme Court precedent weakening federal anti-bribery statutes.

Convicted again at retrial in the Southern District of New York, the disgraced politician was sentenced to a seven-year term in 2018.

In January, Silver won his second appellate reversal from the Second Circuit, which vacated three counts of honest services mail fraud and wire fraud related to an alleged cancer research referral scheme.

The appellate panel did not however alter Silver’s 2018 conviction on four counts of honest services wire fraud, extortion and monetary transactions involving crime proceeds.

Federal prosecutors asked U.S. District Judge Caproni to reimpose the seven-year sentence or substantially similar one, along with reordering a hefty fine.

“His time has come, he needs to go to jail,” the judge said at Silver’s resentencing Monday, trimming just six months from his previous sentence.

The judge ordered Silver to serve 78 months on each of the four counts to be served concurrently, along with a $250,000 fine on each count to paid consecutively.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Charles Richenthal said at the hearing that the government does not believe “there are material changes since the last sentencing.

Citing Silver’s advanced age and deteriorating health during the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, Silver’s attorneys asked the judge for noncustodial sentence comprised of home confinement and a rigorous community service requirement, in addition to fines and forfeiture.

“Mr. Silver is undeniably at-risk,” his attorney James P. Loonam wrote in a sentencing letter in June. “His advanced age and preexisting health conditions place him among the most vulnerable to suffering severe complications from Covid-19, including death.”

The Bureau of Prisons “simply cannot adequately assure” Silver’s safety during a term of incarceration, Loonam argued. “A single day in a BOP facility could expose him to contracting the virus from a seemingly healthy staff member or inmate,” his sentencing submission continued.

But Judge Caproni found Monday that a sentence of home confinement would be inappropriate, “given that most of New York is home confinement” due to Covid-19.

She said a nonincarceration sentence would fail to recognize the serious of the offenses and would create unwarranted disparities between similarly situated defendants.

Silver had been a state legislator for 21 years, a year shy of the record in New York, when he was charged in 2015 with soliciting $5 million in bribes through two no-show jobs at law firms.

Federal prosecutors alleged that the Democratic speaker had abused his office since late 2002 to steer state funds to a Columbia University researcher, Robert Taub, who referred his mesothelioma patients to Weitz & Luxenberg, a law firm specializing in asbestos-related claims. Weitz & Luxenberg, in turn, paid more than $3 million in referral fees to Silver, who held a ceremonial position at the firm.

The bribery case had initially been a slam dunk for federal prosecutors —Silver was tried, convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison — until an unrelated Supreme Court reversal former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell stiffened the threshold for conviction, leading to Silver’s first Second Circuit reversal.

Silver spoke briefly for five minutes at the sentencing hearing, admitting that his misuse of his state office was “improper, selfish and ethically indefensible”

“It undermined the trust of the people of the state of New York,” he said. “I want to be clear, what I did was wrong.”

The Manhattan federal courthouse reopened to the public on July 6 following a nearly four-month period of remote hearings due to the Covid-19 global pandemic.

Silver’s resentencing hearing, one of the first major proceedings to take place at the courthouse in person since mid-March, was sparsely attended.

Mesothelioma Lawyer Steven Kazan Sued – Insider Dealing, Breach of Fiduciary Duty, Fraud…Asbestos

Oakland Lawyer – Fraudster Steven Kazan Sued – Breach of Fiduciary Duty (Asbestos Trusts) – And it’s all True!!

Steven Kazan has been insider dealing and misappropriating Asbestos Trust Funds for decades!

You can’t underestimate the theft and fraud of Kazan with regards to Asbestos Trusts. Insider dealing? Check. Suppression of claims? (so Kazan can steal additional funds)…Absolutely! Fraudulent Claims (which his insider buddies then pay)? Kazan is king. Lying to Congress? Yes, Kazan has done that too. Signing yearly Annual Reports which Kazan knows contain fraud? There’s that loser Kazan again! Banning esteemed Doctors (because they don’t represent his clients) from writing reports for Asbestos Trusts? Yes – that too….How about illegally taking “Attorney Fees” ($10 million) from Asbestos Trust funds? Yes, Kazan has done that too…..really, given the number of Trusts (60) and Kazan’s involvement in most, the amount of fraud, harm, and theft by Asbestos Attorney Steven Kazan cannot be underestimated.

And finally, Kazan got sued! Kazan breached his Fiduciary Duty (like with every Trust). Kazan engaged in Asbestos Trust insider dealing. Kazan used his ‘superior’ position to commit fraud.

The Complaint (filed by Top Pennsylvania Asbestos Attorney Lee Davis) beautifully lays out Kazan’s insider dealing and fraud.

Simply put, the Trust didn’t want to pay Davis’ client’s claim a respectable valuation (Robert Baird) – but would have paid Kazan’s identical claim TEN TIMES respectable valuation. This Complaint ‘proves’ (see below) that Kazan is insider dealing and misappropriating funds not just on the Armstrong World Industries Asbestos Trust – but from dozens of Trusts. 

Thankfully, Pennsylvania lawyer Lee Davis helped make this information public – Steven Kazan has been engaging in fraud, insider dealing, favoritism and misappropriation of funds in his advisory committee role on nearly every Asbestos Trust.

Hopefully, the Department of Justice picks up on this lawsuit and investigates further….

What do you think happened in this lawsuit below? Of course – Kazan immediately resolved the case (of course, using Trust funds). No doubt Kazan hoped this lawsuit never became public….but here it is…

Asbestos could be a powerful weapon against climate change (you read that right)

Scientists are exploring ways to use mineral waste from mines to pull huge amounts of carbon dioxide out of the air.

On a scorching day this August, Caleb Woodall wielded his shovel like a spear, stabbing it into the hardened crust of an asbestos-filled pit near Coalinga, California.

Woodall, a graduate student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, was digging out samples from an asbestos mine that’s been shuttered since 1980, a Superfund site on the highest peak in the state’s Diablo Range. He extracted pounds of the material from several locations across San Benito Mountain, shoveled them into Ziploc bags, and shipped them to a pair of labs for analysis.

He and his colleagues are trying to determine the makeup and structure of the materials pulled from the pits, and to answer two critical questions: How much carbon dioxide do they contain—and how much more could they store?

The vast surface area of certain types of fibrous asbestos, a class of carcinogenic compounds once heavily used in heat-resistant building materials, makes them particularly good at grabbing hold of the carbon dioxide molecules dissolved in rainwater or floating through the air.

That includes the most common form of asbestos, chrysotile, a serpentine mineral laced throughout the mountain (serpentine is California’s state rock). The reaction with carbon dioxide mainly produces magnesium carbonate minerals like magnesite, a stable material that could lock away the greenhouse gas for millennia.

Woodall and his advisor Jennifer Wilcox, a carbon removal researcher, are among a growing number of scientists exploring ways to accelerate these otherwise slow reactions in hopes of using mining waste to fight climate change. It’s a handy carbon-capturing trick that may also work with the calcium- and magnesium-rich by-products of nickel, copper, diamond, and platinum mining.

The initial hope is to offset the ample carbon emissions from mining itself using these minerals already extracted in the process. But the real hope is that this early work allows them to figure out how to effectively and affordably dig up minerals, potentially including asbestos, specifically for the purpose of drawing down vast amounts of greenhouse gas from the atmosphere.

“Decarbonizing mines in the next decade is just helping us to build confidence and know-how to actually mine for the purpose of negative emissions,” says Gregory Dipple, a professor at the University of British Columbia and one of the leading researchers in this emerging field.

Accelerating a very slow cycle

The UN’s climate panel found that any scenario that doesn’t warm the planet by more than 1.5 ˚C will require nearly eliminating emissions by midcentury, as well as removing 100 billion to 1 trillion metric tons of carbon dioxide from the air this century. Keeping warming below 2˚ C could necessitate sucking out 10 billion tons a year by 2050 and 20 billion annually by 2100, a study by the National Academies found.

That’s such a giant amount that we’ll almost certainly need to use a variety of methods to get anywhere close, including planting trees and increasing carbon uptake in agricultural soils. The particular promise of using minerals to pull down carbon dioxide is that it can be done on a massive scale—and would effectively store it away forever.

Mineralization is already the main mechanism nature uses in the so-called “slow carbon cycle.” The carbon dioxide in rainwater dissolves basic rocks, producing magnesium, calcium, and other compounds that make their way into the oceans. There, marine life converts the materials into shells and skeletons that eventually turn into limestone and other rock types.

There are more than enough minerals to tie up all the carbon dioxide we’ve ever emitted and more. The problem is that the vast majority are locked away in solid rock that doesn’t come into contact with the greenhouse gas. Even when they’re exposed in rock outcroppings, it takes a long time for these reactions to occur.

But a variety of interventions can transform the natural slow carbon cycle into a faster one. Those include physical processes like simply digging up the materials, grinding them down into finer particles, and spreading them in thin layers, all of which increases the reactive surface area exposed to carbon dioxide. There are also ways to speed up the chemical reactions by adding heat or compounds like acids.

“This is the giant, untapped opportunity that could remove enormous amounts of CO2,” says Roger Aines, head of the Carbon Initiative at Lawrence Livermore National Lab, who accompanied Woodall on the California field trip.

The right recipe

Dipple is exploring a variety of ways to do this.

In a pilot project last year, funded by the diamond company De Beers and Natural Resources Canada, he and colleagues used tailings from a mine in Canada’s Northwest Territories to ensnare carbon dioxide released from a tank. The point was to evaluate the possibility of using minerals to capture and store the gas from the flue stream of a power plant.

The team is now conducting a field trial for a proposed nickel plant in British Columbia. They’ve placed tailings from exploratory drilling into assorted containers, and are measuring the reaction rates that result from using different chemical additives and processes under different weather conditions. But they expect that simply adding water and effectively tilling the materials will rapidly remove carbon dioxide from the air, forming a solid block that can be buried.

Because the proposed operation would run primarily on hydroelectric power, they estimate that putting to use just 30% of the most reactive tailings from the mines would make the operation carbon neutral. Using about 50% would make it carbon negative.

But not all mine tailings are created equal. In a separate project, Wilcox and Woodall are conducting fieldwork at a platinum, palladium, and nickel mine in Montana, in hopes of developing ways to accelerate carbon-capturing reactions with less-than-ideal by-products. The main minerals in the tailings there are plagioclase feldspars, which hold magnesium and calcium in a tight chemical structure, making them less reactive than other types of mine waste.

Back in the lab, they’re testing whether applying heat and adding ammonium salts and certain weak acids can break down the bonds, freeing up more calcium and magnesium to grab hold of carbon dioxide.

“If we can come up with a recipe on all these different tailings, the opportunities could explode,” Wilcox says.

Next steps

Woodall is exploring asbestos sites because he hopes to find one that might work well for a subsequent field trial to evaluate ways of accelerating carbon uptake.

The approaches could include spreading the material out to increase the reactive surface area, running fans that increase the amount of air flowing over the asbestos, or directly injecting concentrated carbon dioxide into the mineral pits.

Over time, these processes should form a mix of loosely bound rock and dirt, mainly composed of magnesium carbonates, bicarbonate, and calcium carbonate, that could simply be left in place, Aines says.

But is it safe to blow air around asbestos? And would such efforts actually clean up these toxic sites?

Given the health risks of asbestos, where—or even whether—any subsequent work takes place will depend on the determinations of scientific oversight boards and regulatory officials.

It’s possible that some amount of asbestos would remain or could be dispersed in the course of doing the work, Aines says. That’s one of the key things that would need to be tested, he adds.

It’s also why it’s important to do such work at a restricted site, and why any research or subsequent full-scale efforts would need to follow the clear rules and processes for working with these materials. Woodall stresses they would take all the necessary precautions, including spraying down the materials with water to prevent asbestos from floating around, as well as using sensors to monitor exposure levels.

Coming challenges

Ultimately, mine tailings on their own won’t get us very far.

Woodall estimates that one asbestos site in Vermont, with about 30 million tons of waste, could capture as much as 12 million tons of carbon dioxide. Mines globally produce enough mineral by-products to capture nearly 40 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, according to the National Academies study.

But all that is just a tiny fraction of the billions of tons of carbon dioxide that must be captured to meaningfully address climate change. So getting anywhere near the necessary scale will requiring digging up more of the minerals.

Woodall and Aines both say that could include asbestos, given how reactive it is, if field trials show the process is effective and safe.

But that idea is sure to raise serious concerns given the health risks posed by asbestos. And there are lots of other mineral options, even if they’re not quite as ideal.

Other research groups and nonprofits are already looking at ways to put additional minerals to work once they’re extracted, including: spreading ground-down olivine along beaches or sprinkling basalt dust onto farmland to absorb carbon dioxide and help fertilize crops.

Mining for any materials on a far larger scale, however, will face a number of challenges. Mining itself is environmentally destructive. All the energy required to extract, grind, distribute, and process the minerals will eat into any emissions reductions. And there could be serious limits on the available land, particularly since it can take years for most of the minerals to react with carbon dioxide.

For example, removing 2.5 billion tons of CO2 per year using magnesium oxide would require a 10-centimeter-thick (nearly 4 inches) layer covering about 15,000 square kilometers (almost 5,800 square miles), according to a Nature Communications paper in July. That’s equivalent to a little more than 5% of Nevada.

But the major stumbling block is the cost. Wilcox says it can run more than $200 per ton all-in, which is far more expensive than planting trees.

It’s possible that some of the materials could go into commercial products, like the aggregates in concrete, to defray the costs. Some level of voluntary carbon offsets, where people or corporations pay to balance out their own emissions, could help as well. But getting to the scale of billions of tons, most observers believe, will take aggressive public policies that put high prices on carbon pollution or create generous incentives for removing it.