Leading New York politician arrested on bribery charges

23 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Dark Master of New York Politics Accused of Taking Millions in Bribes.

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is vowing to clear his name after his arrest Thursday on conspiracy and bribery charges. His power unbending, his whims often unexplained, Sheldon Silver, in his two decades as speaker of the State Assembly, became a seemingly indestructible presence at the nucleus of the New York political world, a steady advocate for liberal causes and a master tactician in Albany’s closed and entrenched way of governance. The 70-year-old Democrat was taken into custody by the FBI on federal charges that he took nearly $4 million in payoffs and kickbacks, crimes that carry up to 100 years in prison and could cost him his political seat. Silver, 70, surrendered to the FBI in Lower Manhattan on Thursday morning and appeared in court on a five-count complaint accusing him of mail fraud, wire fraud and extortion. In New York’s sleazy political world, where fairly obvious corruption is not just tolerated but encouraged by ethics laws that barely deserve the name, Mr.

He was released on $200,000 bail. “I’m confident that after a full hearing and due process I’ll be vindicated on the charges,” he said and even paused on his way out of court to sign a sketch artist’s rendering of the scene. And it adds to the cynicism and it adds to the ‘they’re all the same,'” Cuomo said during a Thursday afternoon meeting with the Daily News Editorial Board. “I want to see the facts before I have an opinion,” he said. “Obviously there’s a system and a justice system and I think everyone should respect the justice system. That, in fact, is something he should have done two years ago after the disclosure of his role in silencing a sexual harassment complaint against another lawmaker. Until now, Albany lawmakers accustomed to what prosecutors called a “show-me-the-money culture” have taken comfort in knowing that their most powerful figure was unassailable — untouched despite years of inquiries, suspicions and rumors of impropriety. Silver told reporters at the federal courthouse, “I hope I’ll be vindicated,” and his lawyers called the charges “meritless.” He will have a chance to defend himself in this case.

Attorney Preet Bharara said Silver, a lawyer by training, lined up jobs at two firms and then accepted large sums of money over more than a decade in exchange for using his “titanic” power to do political favors. This year there’s an enormous amount at stake: Standardized testing and teacher evaluation; the minimum wage; aid for cities; many major pieces of Mayor de Blasio’s agenda; use of a $5 billion one-time surplus from bank settlements; the Tappan Zee Bridge; and much more. But the system that allows New York lawmakers to engorge their bank accounts in ways that are at best dubious and at worst corrupt deserves no defense, and Mr. The money was disguised as “referral fees,” Bharara said. “As alleged, Silver corruptly used his law license and took advantage of lax outside income rules as a cover to secretly pocket millions of dollars through his official position,” Bharara said.

For the state’s orbit of lobbyists, advocates, elected officials and industry executives with a stake in the productivity and product of the Legislature, Mr. Silver looks forward to responding to them — in court — and ultimately his full exoneration,” his lawyers, Joel Cohen and Steven Molo, said in a statement emailed to reporters. Silver is the second most powerful Democrat in the state and in the calculus of lawmaking in Albany, the state capital, no bill is passed without his consent. But the downside of the turmoil will be a budget process dominated by the Republican Senate and a governor who’s been politically aligned with them for a long time.

But, over time, he will be able to organize and negotiate a budget that the members want, which means, ultimately, one that will serve constituents — many of them in New York City. The complaint said Cuomo disbanded the commission in March only after Silver and his staff played a key role in negotiations in which the Legislature agreed to certain changes to campaign finance reporting requirements and bribery laws. “A deal was cut that cut off the commission’s work to the great relief of Sheldon Silver, who furiously fought the commission’s subpoenas and urged its shutdown,” Bharara said. Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle said Silver still has the backing of an overwhelming number of the chamber’s Democrats and they are not seeking his resignation as speaker. “With this hanging over his head, I don’t think he can carry on,” said Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua. Though Silver attended the governor’s State of the State/budget address on Wednesday, the Manhattan Democrat never mentioned his pending arrest, Cuomo said.

Silver then rewarded these clients with tax breaks, legislative benefits or even state funds he controlled as Assembly speaker, the complaint charges. He controls, for example, which lawmakers sit on which committees and decides whether a bill gets a vote. (TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. In the alleged scheme shocking for its brazenness, Silver is accused of taking more than $6 million in bribes and kickbacks for referring businesses to a law firm that employed him; that he sent hundreds of thousands of dollars in state money to a medical doctor who referred claims to Silver’s law firm; and helping real estate developers who participated in his schemes win state tax breaks. “The show-me-the-money culture of Albany has been perpetuated and promoted at the very top of the political food chain. And as the charges also show, the greedy art of secret self-reward was practiced with particular cleverness and cynicism by the speaker himself,” Bharara said. “Politicians are supposed to be on the people’s payroll, not on secret retainer to wealthy special interests they do favors for. These charges go to the very core of what ails Albany—a lack of transparency, lack of accountability, and lack of principle joined with an overabundance of greed, cronyism, and self-dealing.” In Albany’s expansive understanding of ethics, lawmakers are allowed to have outside income and are not required to disclose who their clients are.

And groups that rely on the smooth functioning and static leadership of the Assembly worry that the body could descend into the infighting and disarray that have made the State Senate a punch line for late-night comedians. Silver, who represents a district that includes Manhattan’s Lower East Side, filed the proper documents, which included his income as a private lawyer representing individual clients at the law firm Weitz & Luxenberg, the complaint says.

Silver directed $500,000 from a secret $8.5 million slush fund to the doctor’s research facility. (The doctor is not named in the complaint and has agreed to testify for the prosecutors.) Mr. Recently, he also emerged as an important adviser to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who may now be forced to navigate Albany’s machinery without a like-minded friend in the negotiating room. Former aides and lawmakers describe a negotiator with a seeming inability to panic or even hurry, someone who would wait until seconds before the last minute to cut a deal and who was one of the few politicians willing to take the heat of unfavorable press coverage. His members were fiercely loyal, largely because Silver took direction from them, not from the editorial boards and headline writers howling for change. When interests throughout the city had been slowly brought along (or bought with Bloomberg’s billions) on items like congestion pricing for vehicles entering the central business district or a stadium on Manhattan’s West Side, Silver would put a halt to it in Albany.

They never did, perhaps remembering what happened the last time there was a revolt over Silver’s power in the Assembly: The speaker easily prevailed over his would-be plotters and then, once their plot failed, stripped them all of committee assignments and perks, and saw to it personally that they were subsequently drummed out of office. Bharara was strengthened by files collected by the anticorruption Moreland Commission in Albany, which deserves credit for not sparing such a powerful political figure. Critics and supporters alike say Silver was able to keep a low profile for months, if not years, waiting for the right moment to strike to move his agenda forward.

Cuomo, who was embracing the start of a new four-year term and eager to put the troubles of last year, including a bumpy re-election campaign and a string of ethics concerns, behind him. Silver was among those who fought subpoenas from the commission demanding a list of clients and descriptions of services provided for pay, according to the indictment.

Now those same qualities that helped Silver rise to power—opaqueness, an ability to keep his friends close but his enemies closer, and a respect for the dark arts of the Albany process—appear to be his undoing. Only a few hours before he was arrested, Silver appeared on stage alongside Cuomo and was hailed by the state’s leaders, including the Assembly Democrats, who made him their speaker yet again.

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