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NYS Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver Charged in Corruption Scheme

Composite Image by Dave Lucas (WAMC)

In the latest arrest to stun Albany, New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was taken into FBI custody this morning. He faces federal corruption charges.  Silver’s future in the chamber he has run for two decades is in question.

According to widespread reports, Silver was taken into FBI custody on corruption charges shortly before 8 a.m. after a long-term investigation. According to court documents, The 70-year old Democratic leader is accused of using the power of his office to solicit millions in bribes and kickbacks.

The New York Times broke the news in December that federal investigators were examining payments from a law firm that did not appear on Silver's annual financial disclosure filings with the state. The U.S. Attorney in Manhattan Preet Bharara was investigating.

The Manhattan Democrat is charged with mail fraud, wire fraud and extortion, accused of “using the power and influence of his official position to obtain for himself millions of dollars of bribes and kickbacks masked as legitimate income.”

The Times reports online that Silver said, “I hope I’ll be vindicated.” Silver was due to make a court appearance this afternoon.   

108th district Democratic Assemblyman John McDonald:    "I was not quick to condemn Joe Bruno, and therefore I am not quick to condemn Speaker Silver. If there are wrongdoings in his personal life or business life, then he needs to address those issues in the legal process that is established."

WAMC's political observer Alan Chartock:  "Look, this is HUGE. This is the longest-serving or about to be the longest-serving speaker in the history of New York. There's something in political science called 'the Iron Law of Oligarchy,' that means you can have 211 people in a legislature but in the end there's one guy sitting at the top who makes the decision. So if you are in fact saying that person is corrupt, then you are saying also that the system has been corrupted.  Now he makes a lot of money, for many of us, but really it's about outside income. It's about the idea that a law firm would give him $600,000 a year, and he writes down their name and he says 'that's alright according to the rules,' now it turns out there may be money coming from another law firm and he didn't disclose that, and that's where he's gotten into trouble. Now interestingly, the whole thing comes from the Moreland Act Commission because, you may remember, that Governor Cuomo established a corruption-fighting Moreland Act Commission and inexplicably just closed it down in the middle.  Now we know that a lot of this information, the kind of information that's coming out now, is what the Moreland Act Commission was gathering. And so, are there gonna be others? Are there gonna be other things that come out of this?"

The state GOP was quick to pounce.  David Laska is director of communications for the New York Republican State Committee.  "This is a sad day for all New Yorkers. Sheldon Silver should do the right thing and resign from the state Assembly so that the New York State Legislature can get on with the business of promoting economic growth and creating jobs."

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, the losing Republican candidate for governor in November, said in an email "The arrest of Sheldon Silver must be the launching point for sweeping change in Albany."

Republican Assemblyman Kieran Lalor of the 105th district  wishes legislators would do something he's been calling for for awhile:   "Find another speaker. They have competent, bright people who care about the state in the Democratic caucus, and they should put one of them in charge and get rid of this speaker who has had this cloud over his head for years and now worse than ever. He deserves due process and  a day in court, but I don't think he has any right to continue as speaker."

Silver was in Albany on Wednesday for Governor Andrew Cuomo's State of the State address. Again, WAMC’s Alan Chartock:   "When something like this happens, people begin to speculate who's behind it. So let me give you an example. Andrew Cuomo is calling for a major educational reform. He's at war with the teachers union. Silver and the Assembly Democrats have been close to the unions and have been speaking for them and it was clear to many of us that much of what Cuomo wanted was gonna be given a very hard time, I think for very good reasons. Now, if in fact the head Democrat, the guy who is really in charge of everything leaves, that leaves the possibility open that Cuomo will have an easier way. There is always discussion about, quote, 'who dropped the dime.' Who started it? Who created this information and why that happened. Preet Bharahra also said by the way that he's studying the actions of the governor. That hasn't come to fruition yet. It may never. But, it's clear to me that Bharara is now the umpire of all that goes on in Albany."

Assemblyman McDonald expects legislators to carry on and conduct business uninterrupted as the Silver drama plays out, although Thursday’s session was halted:    "Does it have an impact on the budget process? This will be adding a lot of noise, a lot of drama, and at the end of the day we have a lot of work to do, and we've got a short period of time to do it, and we're gonna focus on it."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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