Sheldon Silver, the speaker of the New York State Assembly, was charged with receiving about $4 million in bribes and kickbacks, according to a complaint filed Thursday by the U.S. Attorney's office.
“There is probable cause to believe that Silver obtained approximately $4 million in payments characterized as attorney referral fees soley through the corrupt use of his official position,” the complaint said.
“Over his decades in office, Speaker Silver has amassed titanic political power. But, as alleged, during that same time, Silver also amassed a tremendous personal fortune – through the abuse of that political power," Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York said in a statement released Thursday.
Silver, according to The New York Times, surrendered Thursday morning to FBI agents for allegedly receiving payments from a law firm, Goldberg & Iryami, without properly disclosing them. The arrest stems from an anti-corruption investigation launched by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2013.
Silver said, “I hope I’ll be vindicated,” just before surrendering to FBI agents at 26 Federal Plaza in Lower Manhattan, The New York Times reported. In an editorial posted on Thursday, the paper called on Silver to resign.
Bharara alleges Silver was on retainer for a real estate developer while the assembly was considering legislation that would “vitally” affect the developer’s finances.
“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,” Bharara said.
Silver declined an interview, but his attorney, Joel Cohen, released the following statement: “We’re disappointed that the prosecutors have chosen to proceed with these meritless criminal charges. That said, Mr. Silver looks forward to responding to them — in court — and ultimately his full exoneration.”
Silver's arrest has led many of the nonprofits he's brought funding to through his position to worry about losing their funding. The Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, which got significant funding through Silver, released a statement after Silver’s arrest saying the were "exploring the prospect of merging, partnering or sharing administrative functions with other nonprofits … [to] most effectively meet the needs of our clients in the years ahead." A spokesman said Monday that the council is hoping to improve efficiency through such partnerships and that it has been looking into possibilities for months.
But the funding will not be affected unless or until Silver resigns, which hasn't happened yet, said Hank Sheinkopf, a political consultant and longtime supporter of Silver.
"The great panic in the Jewish world since the news of the indictment is: ‘Oh, the sky is falling.’ Well the sky is not falling and it certainly won’t fall as long as the speaker is there. What happens afterwards? he’s not going anyplace, yet, as far as anybody knows," Sheinkopf.
"His record of protecting the less fortunate is pretty significant regardless of any indictment, so, it would be a terrible loss if he weren’t there for a lot of people," he added. "And for the Jewish world: yes it is helpful for Jewish organizations that he is an observant Jew but there are tremendous shifts going on within the community itself. And the needs are shifting as well. So what the future holds isn’t clear anyway."
Silver, who represents Manhattan’s Lower East Side, has earned a reputation as a powerful leader of New York Democrats during more than two decades serving as speaker of the Assembly, the lower house of the State Legislature. He was reelected to the post last month and may serve while under arrest, but would have to resign if convicted.
An Orthodox Jew, Silver is known for his adept accumulation of power during his two decades as speaker. It has long been said that in Albany, decisions are made by “three men in a room”: Silver and whomever happens to be governor and Senate leader at the time. The 70-year-old Democrat has represented Lower Manhattan since 1976.
Over the past decade and a half Sliver has had his share of controversy, including an attempted coup of the speakership in 2000 (for which he punished his opponents dearly) and criticism of his handling of sexual harassment allegations of Albany officials.
Bharara’s probe of the payments from Goldberg & Iryami came out of a more general investigation of supplemental income earned by Albany lawmakers by the Moreland Commission, according to the Times. When Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo shut the anticorruption panel down last March, Bharara vowed to continue its work.
This story was updated on Monday, Jan. 26, to include context on The Metropolitan Council's efforts to partner with other organizations.