One of the most powerful political figures in New York was arrested Thursday by the FBI on charges that he received millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks, the New York Times, Associated Press and New York Law Journal (sub. req.) report.
New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, 70, was charged with five counts, including conspiracy and bribery.
“There is probable cause to believe Silver obtained about $4 million in payments characterized as attorney referral fees solely through the corrupt use of his official position,” the criminal complaint (PDF) says.
“When all was said and done, he amassed nearly $4 million in illegitimate proceeds and arranged for approximately $500,000 in state funds to be used for projects that benefited his personal plans,” said Richard Frankel, the FBI special agent in charge, in a statement.
As Assembly speaker, Silver is one of three top power brokers in Albany, along with the speaker of the state senate and the governor. Silver, a Democrat, has been in the legislature since 1976 and became speaker in 1994. According to the AP, he has a degree from Brooklyn Law School and is a practicing attorney. Silver has gone toe-to-toe with a succession of five governors, including the late Mario Cuomo and his son Andrew Cuomo, who is a fellow Democrat and the current governor.
Last April, Cuomo closed the state’s Moreland anti-corruption commission, which had been looking into pay-to-play politics in Albany. But U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of the Southern District of New York took over the files and continued investigating.
The criminal complaint says that when the commission began its work in 2013, looking into outside income sources for Silver and other legislators, “Silver took legal action and other steps to prevent the disclosure of such information.”
At a news conference about Silver’s arrest, Bharara said: “For many years, New Yorkers have asked the question: How could Speaker Silver, one of the most powerful men in all of New York, earn millions of dollars in outside income without deeply compromising his ability to honestly serve his constituents? Today, we provide the answer: He didn’t.”
The charges against Silver “go to the very core of what ails Albany,” Bharara said, and told reporters to “stay tuned” for the results of other public corruption investigations his office is conducting.
The charges against Silver are “meritless,” Joel Cohen, Silver’s lawyer, says in a statement. “Mr. Silver looks forward to responding to them in court and ultimately his full exoneration.”
After his arrest Thursday, the Assembly canceled the day’s legislative session. The state Republican Party and several Democrats have called for Silver to resign.
Silver’s outside income has created buzz for some time. As speaker, he has a salary of $121,000, the Times reports. In 2013, he reported earnings of at least $650,000 for legal work, some of it with the firm Weitz & Luxenberg, a personal injury firm in New York City.
Prosecutors allege in the complaint that they could find no evidence that Silver completed any legal work for that firm, and no record of him making a court appearance. The complaint says that Silver also failed to list all the payments he received on his annual financial disclosure filings. Although Silver was said to have referred more than 100 clients to Weitz & Luxenberg, investigators reported that they spoke to more than 10 of these clients, none of whom knew Silver nor of any role he played in their legal representation.
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