Sheldon Silver, the speaker of the New York State Assembly, was arrested on Jan. 22 on federal corruption charges after being accused of using his power in office to receive more than $6 million in bribes.
Silver, a Democrat from the Lower East Side of Manhattan, first joined the New York State Assembly in 1976 and became speaker in 1994. The FBI’s investigation dates his illegal dealings back to 2000, charging the speaker with five criminal counts of fraud.
The New York Times writes that the counts of fraud include obtaining illegal referral payments from a law firm, transferring state funds to a doctor who referred asbestos clients to that law firm, and helping real estate developers win tax breaks.
Silver reportedly collected more than $3.2 million in referral fees and directed $500,000 in state funds to Dr. Robert Taub, who cooperated with the FBI.
The criminal complaints accuse 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.”
Silver’s arrest could stop him from becoming the longest-serving speaker in New York State’s history.
“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?” said Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney in charge of prosecuting Silver. “Today, we provide the answer: He didn’t.”
For years, Silver’s outside income has been in question. As speaker, his annual salary is $121,000, yet last year he reported making up to $750,000 for legal work. The complaint attests that Silver referred more than 100 clients to the law firm Weitz & Luxenberg.
Silver is also involved in a lawsuit filed by two assembly staffers who charge that the speaker did not protect them from being harassed by former Assemblyman Vito Lopez.
State lawmakers charged with a crime are still permitted to serve. If Silver is convicted of a felony, he will be forced to resign.