Federal investigators on Thursday announced the arrest of New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on a list of corruption charges related to kickbacks he allegedly received while working for a city law firm.
The 70-year-old surrendered earlier in the morning at Federal Plaza in Manhattan and was later released on a $200,000 bond after a court appearance. He was not required to enter a plea. A pre-trial hearing is scheduled for Feb. 23.
Silver is charged with two counts of honest services fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, one count of extortion under color of official right, and one count of conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right.
Silver spoke briefly to reporters as he left the courthouse.
“I am confident that when all the issues are aired, I will be vindicated. Thank you," he said.
Speaking to reporters earlier, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara said Silver "Cyncially abused his law degree and New York's lax disclosure rules to disguise kickbacks as legal referrals."
Bharara went on to say the lawmaker's troubles go to the very heart of the problems in Albany, one of which is a "lack of transparency."
Today's Assembly session in Albany was canceled but members still gathered in conference.
Silver was in the capital on Wednesday for Governor Andrew Cuomo's State of the State address.
Investigators have been looking into substantial payments made to Silver while working for the Weitz & Luxenberg law firm.
Silver apparently never listed the income on his financial disclosure forms.
According to the complaint, Silver took in nearly $4 million in illegitimate proceeds and arranged for approximately $500,000 in state funds to be used for projects that benefited his personal plans.
Federal investigators say the disguised bribes and kickbacks account for approximately two-thirds of all of Silver’s outside income since 2002.
In a statement, Silver's attorneys said, "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."
The federal investigation into Silver began after the governor disbanded the Moreland Commission, which was looking into corruption in Albany.
The 70-year-old Silver represents the Lower East Side and has led the Assembly since 1994.
He was re-elected speaker when state lawmakers began their new legislative session earlier this month.
In a statement, FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard Frankel said, "As alleged, Silver took advantage of the political pulpit to benefit from unlawful profits. When all was said and done, he amassed nearly $4 million in illegitimate proceeds and arranged for approximately $500,000 in state funds to be used for projects that benefited his personal plans. We hold our elected representatives to the highest standards and expect them to act in the best interest of their constituents. In good faith, we trust they will do so while defending the fundamental tenets of the legal system. But as we are reminded today, those who make the laws don’t have the right to break the laws."
The law firm "Weitz & Luxenberg,” which the U.S. Attorney said Silver worked for, issued a statement: "As the U.S. Attorney's Complaint makes absolutely clear, Weitz & Luxenberg was not involved in any of the wrongdoing the government alleges, and the firm, which has fully cooperated with the Government in this matter, was not aware of any improprieties whatsoever".
It's not clear how Silver's arrest will affect the upcoming state budget negotiations in Albany.
Silver can still serve even though he has been arrested, but he would have to leave office if he is convicted of a felony.
There's no indication that Silver will step aside, and so far, support has been strong among his Democratic colleagues in the Assembly, but if Silver does eventually leave his position as speaker, political observers are looking at several New York City lawmakers as possible successors.
That list includes Assemblymen Keith Wright and Carl Heastie of the northeast Bronx, longtime Assemblyman Joe Lentol of north Brooklyn and Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, who represents parts of the west side of Manhattan, including Greenwich Village.