Sheldon Silver, the State Assembly Speaker since 1994, was this morning arrested on federal corruption charges stemming from unreported “substantial payments” from the Manhattan law firm Goldberg & Iryami. The incident will likely throw the new legislative session into some disarray. According to court documents, Silver is accused of wielding the power of his office to solicit millions of kickbacks and bribes and to perpetuate fraud.
It’s worth quoting the criminal complaint, because it’s amazingly brazen: Silver is accused of engaging in a “secret and corrupt scheme to deprive the citizens of the State of New York of his honest services, and to extort individuals and entities under color of official right […] Silver has obtained millions of dollars in outside income as a direct result of his corrupt use of his official position…” The Speaker surrendered to FBI agents early this morning in Lower Manhattan.
Silver is one of the most powerful men in New York State politics. The 70-year-old lawmaker, who represents the Lower East Side, was first elected to the Assembly in 1977. Since becoming Speaker in 1994, he has wielded considerable back-room power as one of the “three men in a room,” along with the governor and Senate majority leader, who have the most influence on the state’s legislative matters.
He’s also dodged a number of near-scandals, including multiple sexual assault allegations and whispers of impropriety related to the reporting of his personal income, so it’s safe to say that today’s events have been coming. In late December, the Times reported that federal investigators were looking into payments made to Silver by Goldberg & Iryami, a small firm that “seeks real estate tax reductions for commercial and residential properties in New York City,” an area of law known as tax certiorari. Silver is a personal injury lawyer, but he’s not known to have any expertise in tax certiorari, which is a complex specialty of real estate law. He did not disclose the payments on his tax forms.
The investigation stemmed from one initiated in June 2013 by the Moreland Commission, Governor Cuomo’s anti-corruption probe that was eventually shut down after it started inquiring after the Governor’s own ethics. Picking up where the Commission left off is U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who’s fast becoming the hero Gotham needs (you might recall Bharara as the guy who brought a lawsuit against the city over Rikers Island conditions).
Today’s indictment of Silver cites Moreland Commission files in its findings. The five-count complaint accuses Silver of “using the power and influence of his official position to obtain for himself millions of dollars of bribes and kickbacks masked as legitimate income.” It also said that “there is probable cause to believe that Silver received approximately $4 million in payments characterized as attorney referral fees solely through the corrupt use of his official position.” He’s also charged with mail fraud, wire fraud, and extortion. Prosecutors seized approximately $3.8 million of Silver’s money on Thursday morning.
Goldberg & Iryami, the law firm in question, appears to have just two lawyers on staff, the Times writes. One of them is Jay Arthur Goldberg, who once served as Silver’s counsel. Among the many projects overseen by Goldbery & Iryami are several “large cooperative developments on the Lower East Side,” in the heart of Silver’s district.
Silver isn’t gone, yet—state lawmakers only have to leave office if convicted of a felony. Already, the takes from both sides are cascading down. Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle told reporters “I’m continuing to support the speaker,” while the Times editorial board dusted off an op-ed calling for Silver to step down.
Silver, so far, has had no comment, other than to say “I hope I’ll be vindicated,” before stepping into the investigators’ offices at 26 Federal Plaza.
Follow Phillip Pantuso on Twitter @phillippantuso.