A criminal complaint (see below) detailing the many corruption charges levied against Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver claims the embattled Democrat used his "power and influence" to rake in millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks, which he falsely claimed as legitimate income from his outside law practice.
The 35-page complaint, filed yesterday in federal court, is a doozy—according to Robert W. Ryan, a criminal investigator with the U.S. Attorney's office, Silver, who surrendered to the Feds today, had his hand in more than a few honeypots. Specifically, he's accused of orchestrating two bribery schemes: 1) Illegally referring tax certiorari business from real estate developers to an unnamed real estate law firm, for which he received hefty referral fees and 2) Referring asbestos-related lawsuits through a doctor to the law firm Weitz and Luxenberg, for whom he was employed, in exchange for state grants supporting that doctor's research, also resulting in hefty referral fees.
These fees added up to about $4 million, according to the complaint, and was "masked as legitimate income earned by Silver as a private lawyer." Silver allegedly used some crafty legal work to hide all this from the now-defunct Moreland Commission. He's been charged with extortion, along with mail fraud and wire fraud, though he says he's hopeful he'll be "vindicated." We'll see!
First, let's look at the real estate deal. According to the complaint, Silver was taking bribe money from two developers in exchange for using his power as Assembly Speaker to protect their interests, aiding them with tax rebate programs and failing to push for rent protections for poor tenants. He also allegedly referred these developers to a tax certiorari firm led by a former colleague in Albany—that firm hid the developers' cash by claiming them as referral fees, the sum of which prosecutors say adds up to $700K.
Silver failed to detail any of this in financial disclosure forms. It's noteworthy that one of these developers has contributed more than $10M to candidates for state office and political committees, including $200K that's gone to Silver.
In the second grift, Silver is accused of earning over $3M in corrupt "referral fees" from the law firm Weitz & Luxenberg, for whom he also received an annual $120K salary as a personal injury attorney. The referrals in question allegedly came from a doctor with whom Silver has a "mutual friend" in Albany, who specializes in a specific asbestos-related cancer called mesothelioma.
The doctor allegedly sent patients to the firm through Silver, though Silver was not involved with asbestos-related suits and did not have any contact with these patients. In exchange, the doctor reportedly received grant money from the State to fund his research, along with additional benefits for himself and his family. Meanwhile, the majority of Silver's "referral" cash was disclosed on financial documents as personal injury work NOT related to asbestos.
Note that on top of Silver's lawyer money, he receives a base salary of $79,500 from the State Assembly, and an extra $41,500 as Speaker, and a per diem, car and driver, and travel reimbursement. He's reportedly worth about $6M, though the Feds seized $3.8M from him today.
Investigations into Silver's allegedly corrupt activity picked up soon after Governor Cuomo disbanded the Moreland Commission last year. And this is just the tip of the iceberg: currently U.S. Attorney Preet Bhahara has access to a slew of probe findings from the Commission, so we can probably expect more of Albany's most corrupt to rise to the surface soon enough.