Powerful NY Democrat arrested on bribery charges

Sheldon Silver, speaker of the New York General Assembly, was arrested yesterday and charged on several counts, including taking more than $4 million in bribes.

New Yorkers may be asking, "What took you so long?"  For two decades Silver held sway in Albany, making millions in outside income that the feds are now charging he solicited from companies and individuals wanting to do business with the state, and funneled through third parties.

Silver's methods for receiving kickbacks was simple and elegant.

New York Daily News:

The federal prosecutor said Silver’s approach to his illegal income was simple: “He did nothing. As alleged, Speaker Silver never did any legal work. He just sat back and collected millions of dollars.”

Silver was accused of pressuring two real estate companies doing business with the state to hire a law firm that was regularly paying him bribes, the 35-page complaint charged.

The beneficiary of the increased business was Jay Arthur Goldberg, 75, who once worked as Silver’s lawyer in the Assembly, sources indicated.

Goldberg, of the Manhattan law firm Goldberg & Iryami, was also once employed by the city Tax Commission during the Koch administrations.

The majority of the $4 million came after Silver steered $500,000 in taxpayer funds to a doctor who in turn referred asbestos cases to Weitz & Luxenberg, a personal injury firm affiliated with the speaker for decades.

The state money was provided to Dr. Robert Taub for research by the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation — with some of the additional funds going for unspecified “additional benefits” to the doctor’s family, the court papers charges.

Taub, who is affiliated with Columbia University, is cooperating with the FBI, court papers revealed. Silver sponsored a May 2011 “official resolution” by the assembly honoring Taub.

Silver collected more than $3.2 million in referral fees from the law firm after directing more than 100 clients to Weitz & Luxenberg for asbestos litigation, according to the complaint.

But not a single one of the firm's clients ever contacted Silver or spoke with the politician about their cases, even as the law firm kept paying the fees.

I can see where the prosecutor is going to have some difficulty getting a conviction.  Referral fees are not illegal, and proving that this setup is outside the law is going to be tough.  The key will be proving that the initial payment of $500,000 in tax dollars to the doctor was made in expectation of financial gain by Silver.  The doctor, who was unnamed in the criminal complaint, has agreed to testify for the prosecution.

Not surprisingly, Democrats in Albany rallied to Silver's defense:

Assembly Democrats pledged to prevent Speaker Sheldon Silver's corruption arrest from throwing the chamber into disarray, with dozens of lawmakers supporting him Thursday after he was charged in an alleged kickback scheme.

A few hours after Silver, D-Manhattan, turned himself in to the FBI, Democratic members of the Assembly met behind closed doors at the Capitol for about 90 minutes to discuss Silver's situation. When they emerged, about 30 lawmakers stood together in front of the press as a show of support for Silver as he awaits trial.

Silver, 70, is accused of being at the center of a scheme that allowed him to accept $6 million from law firms without doing legal work in return.

"I'm continuing to support the speaker and I would say that the members overwhelmingly, in the conversation that we just had, are continuing their support," said Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, D-Irondequoit, Monroe County. "There is a strong feeling, as I think we should all reflect on, that there is a presumption of innocence. We have every confidence that the speaker is going to fill his role with distinction."

Meanwhile, Silver has no plans to step down because of the corruption charges.  Why should he, with all that love coming from Albany Democrats?  Democrats hold 106 of the 150 seats in the Assembly, which means that Silver isn't going anywhere unless he's convicted of a felony.

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