Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver pleads not guilty to all five charges

MANHATTAN (WTEN/AP) — Assemblyman Sheldon Silver, speaker of the Democrat-controlled Assembly, was taken into custody this morning by FBI agents at 26 Federal Plaza following a long-term investigation.

The FBI held a joint press conference with the SDNY U.S. Attorney’s office. Just two blocks away, Silver was arraigned at the federal courthouse at 500 Pearl St. where he pleaded not guilty to all five charges he faces. He was released on $200,000 bail. He told the dozens of reporters from across the state that had gathered at the site that he would be vindicated.

[View the full complaint here: US vs. Sheldon Silver Complaint]

The complaint alleges that he engaged in public corruption, receiving millions in bribes and kickbacks disguised as referral fees.

The FBI and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced that in order to prevent Silver from accessing his alleged ill-gotten gains, a court has issued warrants allowing authorities to seize approximately $3.8 million in alleged fraud proceeds that Silver had dispersed at 8 different bank accounts at 6 different banks.

The complaint states that for more than a decade, Silver has claimed that his outside income as a private lawyer is derived from private citizens who seek his legal services in personal injury matters, and that none of his clients has any business before the State. Authorities say these claims are false and misleading, and that Silver “has obtained millions in outside income as a direct result of his corrupt use of his official position to obtain attorney referral fees for himself, including from clients with substantial business before the state.”

An investigation revealed that Silver has received more than $6 million in outside income from two law firms since late 2002.

He allegedly received approximately $700,000 in undisclosed bribes and kickbacks by using his power and influence as an elected official to induce real estate developers with business before the State to retain and continue to use a real estate law firm controlled by an attorney who previously worked as Silver’s counsel in the Assembly. Silver was allegedly paid for the referrals by the firm.

The investigation also claims that Silver obtained more than $5.3 million in payments from Weitz & Luxenberg including a $120,000 annual salary, which totaled more than $1.4 million during the “relevant time period,” according to authorities. Silver allegedly received this pay based on his official position rather than any work he was expected to perform for clients of the firm. The payments also allegedly included $3.9 million in attorney referral fees, over $3 million of which he obtained through referrals of asbestos cases from a doctor by using his official position to secretly direct $500,000 in State funds to the doctor’s research and provide additional benefits to the doctor and his family.

Silver had no involvement in the work of the real estate law firm, or Weitz & Luxenberg’s asbestos practice, according to the complaint. Authorities allege that Silver obtained about $4 million in payments characterized as attorney referral fees solely through corrupt use of his official position.

When the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption began to investigate outside income earned by Silver and other legislators, Silver took legal action and other steps to prevent the disclosure of information to the commission.

Silver is due back in court on February 23.

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