“I am confident that after a full hearing and due process, I will be vindicated of these charges,” a relaxed Silver announced after his release on $200,000 bond following a Manhattan Federal Court hearing.
Silver, spied earlier taking an uncomfortable ride to the courthouse alongside an FBI agent, made his brief appearance after U.S. Attorney Preet Bhahara blasted him as the epitome of a corrupt politician.
“For many years, New Yorkers have asked the question, ‘How could Speaker Silver, one of the most powerful men in New York, earn millions of dollars in outside income without deeply compromising his ability to honestly serve his constituents?’” said Bharara.
“Today we provide the answer: He didn’t.”
The stunning five-count criminal complaint accused the Manhattan Democrat, an Albany power broker for decades, with pocketing millions in bribes and kickbacks in return for wielding his massive influence.
“Speaker Silver lied and misled the public about his outside incomes,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara told a news conference hours after Silver turned himself in.
“These charges go to the very core of what ails Albany — a lack of transparency, lack of accountability and a lack of principle joined with an overabundance of greed, cronyism and self-dealing.”
Bharara’s office received court warrants to seize $3.4 million from eight of Silver’s accounts at a half-dozen banks.
Each of the counts against Silver carries a maximum 20-year jail term — five years longer than the length of time that prosecutors claim the speaker was collecting his crooked cash.
The federal prosecutor said Silver’s approach to his illegal income was simple: “He did nothing. As alleged, Speaker Silver never did any legal work. He just sat back and collected millions of dollars.”
Silver was accused of pressuring two real estate companies doing business with the state to hire a law firm that was regularly paying him bribes, the 35-page complaint charged.
The beneficiary of the increased business was Jay Arthur Goldberg, 75, who once worked as Silver’s lawyer in the Assembly, sources indicated.
Goldberg, of the Manhattan law firm Goldberg & Iryami, was also once employed by the city Tax Commission during the Koch administrations.
The majority of the $4 million came after Silver steered $500,000 in taxpayer funds to a doctor who in turn referred asbestos cases to Weitz & Luxenberg, a personal injury firm affiliated with the speaker for decades.
The state money was provided to Dr. Robert Taub for research by the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation — with some of the additional funds going for unspecified “additional benefits” to the doctor’s family, the court papers charges.
Taub, who is affiliated with Columbia University, is cooperating with the FBI, court papers revealed. Silver sponsored a May 2011 “official resolution” by the assembly honoring Taub.
Silver collected more than $3.2 million in referral fees from the law firm after directing more than 100 clients to Weitz & Luxenberg for asbestos litigation, according to the complaint.
But not a single one of the firm's clients ever contacted Silver or spoke with the politician about their cases, even as the law firm kept paying the fees.
Silver had long insisted publicly that he sent “plain, ordinary, simple people” with legitimate personal injury cases to the law firm, the court documents note.
No one else was charged with Silver — although one alleged co-conspirator was mentioned.
Asked if more charges were coming, Bharara replied, “Stay tuned.”
Authorities also charged that the corrupt Silver attempted to cover his tracks once a state investigation was launched in 2013, moving to quash a subpoena from the Moreland Commission to Weitz & Luxenberg.
Silver dismissed the investigation as a “fishing expedition.” The assembly speaker and his staff were involved in negotiations that led Gov. Cuomo to end the commission last year, the complaint said.
Silver, whose annual state salary is $121,000, was driven in a white Subaru from the FBI’s Lower Manhattan headquarters to the nearby federal courthouse on Pearl St. shortly after 10 a.m.
Mayor de Blasio, speaking after the speaker surrendered to the FBI, said he did not believe that Silver should resign.
“Although the charges announced today are certainly very serious, I want to note that I’ve always known Shelly Silver to be a man of integrity,” the mayor declared.
The schemes date back to 2000, and the complaint charges the speaker with multiple counts of fraud and using “the power and influence of his official position to obtain for himself millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks masked as legitimate income earned by Silver as a private lawyer.”
Silver arrived early Thursday at 26 Federal Plaza in Manhattan after officials allowed him to surrender and avoid a perp walk, law enforcement sources said.
The courtesy was extended to Silver due to his status as a veteran state lawmaker, the sources said.
His attorney dismissed the charges as without merit.
“Mr. Silver looks forward to responding to them — in court — and ultimately his full exoneration,” said defense lawyer Joel Cohen.
Silver, 70, told reporters on Jan. 7, after word of the investigation came to light, that he had not personally heard from investigators. He was less specific when asked whether his lawyer had, saying “they have not been directed to do anything.”
He has repeatedly refused to discuss the probe.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate at this time under the circumstances to be commenting on these matters,” he said two weeks ago.
The arrest of Silver, who next year would become the longest-serving speaker in Assembly history, comes as Bharara’s office has taken up the unfinished investigations of the Moreland anti-corruption commission.
Gov. Cuomo created the commission in 2013, but abruptly ended its work last year when the Legislature agreed to ethics reforms.
The criminal complaint upends the power structure in Albany just as the new legislative session is beginning.
Assembly Democrats, shortly before Bhahara unloaded on Silver, emerged from a closed-door Thursday morning conference at the Capitol to voice their support of their accused leader.
“I am continuing to support the speaker and I would say that the members, overwhelmingly in the conversation we just had, are continuing to support (Silver),” said Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle (D-Rochester).
Silver, along with Cuomo and Senate Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos, are known as the “three men in the room” because they negotiate most everything that gets done in Albany.
There are many new faces but no clear heir apparent to Silver if he gives up the speaker’s job. Assemblymen Keith Wright (D-Manhattan), Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) and Joseph Lentol (D-Brooklyn) are potential successors.
Lentol said a decision on whether Silver should step down was one that only the speaker could make.
“Even though it’s a serious charge and it probably hampers his ability somewhat to be speaker, he still has the confidence of his members,” said Lentol.
The Brooklyn Democrat expected Silver to receive a vote of confidence from his colleagues.
“The presumption of innocence is something we believe very strongly in,” he said. “We’ll weather that storm. It may hurt us, but Shelly is a shrewd and intelligent guy.”
Heastie declined comment on the situation.
Calls for Silver’s resignation started even before he appeared in court.
“Speaker Silver should resign for the good of the people of New York,” tweeted state Sen. Brad Holyman (D-Manhattan).
Silver was in Albany on Wednesday to hear Cuomo deliver his combined State of the State/budget address. It’s unclear whether he knew at the time whether he'd be under arrest less than 24 hours later.
For years Silver’s outside income has been the subject of discussion and controversy. Last year he reported making up to $750,000 for legal work, mostly with the trial firm of Weitz & Luxenberg.
Silver has refused to detail what he’s done to earn the pay.
First elected to the Assembly in 1976, Silver became speaker in February 1994 after the death of Saul Weprin. He has served as speaker under five governors and a host of Senate majority leaders, both Republican and Democrat.
Silver was born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He lives with his wife, Rosa, near the apartment where he grew up. He has four children.
His wife and one of Silver’s sons were in the Assembly chamber Jan. 7 when Silver was elected to another term as speaker.
Several Assembly Republicans urged a vote against Silver on that day, including Steve Katz (R-Putnam County), who publicly argued that “New Yorkers deserve a speaker who isn’t under federal investigation.”
Silver has also been dealing with a lawsuit filed by two Assembly staffers who charge that the speaker and the Assembly did not protect them from being sexually harassed by former Assemblyman Vito Lopez. After the initial accusations that Lopez groped staffers made news, Silver suddenly found himself embroiled in controversy when it was reported that he had previously paid two other staffers who had accused Lopez of sexual harassment a then-secret, taxpayer-funded settlement in excess of $100,000.
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