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Feds charge powerful New York pol with graft

Sheldon Silver, a Democrat from Manhattan who has served as speaker of the state assembly since 1994, was arraigned Thursday on federal charges that he took nearly $4 million in illegal payments from a law firm since 2002.

Silver, 70, was released on $200,000 bond and forced to surrender his U.S. passport.

His lawyers said Silver intends to fight the charges.

A federal five-count criminal complaint unsealed Thursday charged Silver with a scheme to defraud, depriving the public of honest services, mail fraud, and extortion. Each count carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.

The complaint alleged that Silver took more than $3 million in referral fees from personal-injury firm Weitz & Luxenberg P.C. The DOJ said he secretly directed state funds to an unnamed doctor for research in exchange for referrals of asbestos cases.

He’s also charged with taking $700,000 in kickbacks from a small law firm that wasn’t named for helping it land work from real-estate developers doing business with New York state.

Silver claimed in state financial disclosures that he earned outside income as a private lawyer at Weitz & Luxenberg representing individual clients. The DOJ alleged the outside income came from Silver’s corrupt use of his office and not from any legitimate legal work he claimed he performed.

Under New York law, Silver can hold office unless he’s convicted.

The FBI alleged that Silver used about $500,000 in state funds “for projects that benefited his personal plans.”

Silver earned $121,000 for being the state assembley speaker in 2013, and between $650,000 and $750,000 from outside legal work, according to his financial disclosures.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow Democrat, said Thursday that Silver is a “man of integrity,” the Wall Street Journal said.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Frank Maas issued seizure warrants Thursday to prevent Silver from accessing about $3.8 million “alleged to be traceable to the charged corruption offenses” until the case is resolved, the DOJ said.

The federal complaint in U.S. v. Silver is here (pdf).


Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.

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