Thursday, January 29, 2015

New York's Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver Arrested on Corruption Charges

The powerful and long-serving speaker of New York's state assembly was arrested by the FBI after turning himself in to authorities last week. Silver, who had been in the state Assembly representing Manhatta in 65th Assembly district since 1976, is also a practicing attorney and close political ally of New York City mayor Bill DeBlasio. Siver's income from the law firm of Weitz & Luxenberg had long been the subject of criticism. US Attorney Preet Bharara accused Silver of collecting more than $3 million in bribes and kickbacks that were disguised as referral fees.

In a criminal complaint, authorities said Silver abused his power and “obtained about $4 million in payments characterized as attorney referral fees solely through the corrupt use of his official position.”

The arrest sent shock waves through New York’s Capitol as a new legislative session began, and it came just a day after Silver shared the stage with Gov. Andrew Cuomo during his State of the State address.

As speaker of the Democrat-controlled Assembly, Silver is one of the most influential people in New York state government. Along with the Senate majority leader and the governor, he plays a major role in creating state budgets, laws and policies in a system long-criticized in Albany as “three men in a room.”

During a press conference, Bharara also hinted that more charges could be waiting in the wings against state officials.

In July 2013, New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced the formation of the Moreland Commission to examine New York's weak campaign finance laws and investigate any wrongdoing or suspicious activities among state lawmakers. A few short months after the Commission released their preliminary findings, Cuomo abruptly announced that he was shutting down the Moreland Commission. Some observers believe that any further investigating by the Moreland Commission would've brought to light incriminating information against Cuomo's donors or political allies.

In July 2014, the New York Times published an article further alleging that Gov Cuomo was hindering the Moreland Commission's investigations. Assembly speaker Silver was among those who were subpoenaed by the investigative committee, but accused the Moreland Commission of being nothing more than a 'fishing expedition' and attempting to intimidate state lawmakers.

Although Cuomo shut down the Moreland Commission less than halfway into its stated 18-month lifespan, the US Attorney's office was requesting documents from them back in May 2014.

It wasn't until last month that Silver disclosed that he was earning money from a second law firm- something he withheld from the Moreland Commission.

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