Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a fixture in Albany for decades, was arrested earlier today for what the government says is a long-running, multimillion-dollar bribery and kickback scheme.
The criminal complaint, unsealed at 9:30 a.m. today, alleges that Silver “engaged in a secret and corrupt scheme to deprive the citizens…of his honest services, and to extort individuals and entities under color of official right.” The complaint alleges that Silver accepted at least $4 million in bribes in what amounts to a fairly straightforward kickback scheme.
According to prosecutors, there were two primary channels: Silver would use his influence to convince unnamed developers seeking state approval on real estate contracts to hire a law firm with which he had a financial arrangement. In return, that law firm — which was not named in the complaint — would pay Silver a percentage of the fees generated by his “referrals.” In a separate scheme, Silver helped steer state funds for medical research to an unnamed doctor, who in turn sent Silver legal clients with potentially lucrative asbestos-related claims. Silver is accused of using a byzantine system of bank accounts — at least eight separate accounts at six different financial institutions — to store the ill-gotten funds, a potential indication that he was conspiring to hide his activity. The criminal complaint says that the investigation into Silver’s complicated financial arrangement is ongoing.
The charges fall under “honest services” wire and mail fraud statutes — honest services being what elected officials are supposed to provide the electorate — as well as “extortion under color of official right,” or extortion enabled by official capacity. All five charges are felonies.
Silver is permitted to retain his seat while the case proceeds, and will only be required to resign if and when he is convicted of a felony charge.
The New York Times broke the story of Silver’s arrest this morning, describing an investigation into payments the Speaker, also an attorney, took from law firms for unspecified legal work. It’s not against the law for assembly members — who are technically only part-time workers — to have outside sources of income. But Silver’s relationships with some firms raised eyebrows because he had no expertise in the area of law in which they specialized. At least some of the payments were also not disclosed on formal income declarations as required under state ethics rules.
The unnamed firm from the complaint was identified by the Times as Manhattan-based Goldberg and Iryami. Silver was purportedly performing legal work in exchange for the millions in fees he collected, but prosecutors allege that, far from earning his pay, Silver “has never performed any legal work for the firm whatsoever,” according to records obtained during the government’s investigation. The developers in question, filings say — allegedly recruited by Silver — had been unaware of the “fee share” arrangement between the Speaker and the firm, a lapse that is itself a violation of state bar rules. The filings suggest that there will be other prosecutions, and also say something rather ironic: A key source in Silver’s prosecution is apparently an unnamed lobbyist working on behalf of one of the allegedly crooked real estate developers.
Silver was apparently making a very good living with his various income streams, legal and allegedly illegal. Between 2002 and 2014, prosecutors allege, Silver earned more than $6 million, including his annual legislative salary of $120,000.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, at a press conference earlier today, acknowledged the charges but did not call for Silver’s resignation, despite having criticized former congressman Michael Grimm’s decision to hold onto office while under federal indictment.
“I think he has a right to due process,” de Blasio said, according to a transcript of his remarks provided by his office. “Allegations are allegations. Charges are charges. And there has to be a process to determine the outcome. I think, separately, it’s a true statement — he’s done a lot for New York City, and I value that, certainly.”
The Times, on the other hand, called for Silver to step down immediately. In a sharply worded editorial, the paper declared that Silver bore no small amount of responsibility for the “cesspool” of corruption apparently endemic in Albany. “Mr. Silver is not just part of it,” the Times wrote. “He leads it.”
Read the documents below: