Seaman Lyman, Oswegonian News Editor
New York’s Speaker of the Assembly Sheldon Silver stepped down last week after he was arrested on five federal charges of corruption.
On January 22, Preet Bharara, U.S. District Attorney in the southern district of New York, announced the five charges his office alleges Silver committed. The alleged counts say Silver used asbestos law firm Weitz & Luxenberg to disguise kickbacks and bribes he was receiving because of his position in the state government.
Silver, D-Manhattan, was arrested the day the charges were announced in Manhattan and later released on $200,000 bail. Manhattan’s Lower East Side Assemblyman was required to turn in his passport upon his release. A pre-trial hearing is set for February 23.
Bharara explained that Silver allegedly provided state grants to a doctor who treated patients affected by asbestos. That doctor would refer patients to an asbestos law firm and then Silver would receive the kickbacks. The other alleged kickback scheme involved real estate developers who would see Silver use his powers over the law, then the developers would be referred to the law firm which sent secret referral fees to Silver.
In total, Silver allegedly received over $4 million in kickbacks from the law firms since as early as 2000, according to the U.S. district attorney.
Silver’s arrest comes a few months short of a year after Governor Andrew Cuomo disbanded the Moreland Commission, a task force established in 2013 by Cuomo to investigate corruption in state government. When the investigative body was disbanded in March of 2014, Bharara asked for the files from the numerous investigations so that he could pick up where they left off.
Silver, 70, held the position of speaker since 1994 and was elected to the Assembly in 1976. The assemblyman officially resigned his speakership on January 30. Several members of the Assembly stepped forward looking to become the next speaker, but ultimately Assemblyman Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, was elected by the Assembly in session on February 3 to become the first African-American speaker in New York’s history.
“This change in leadership will bring about much-needed reform,” Heastie said after being elected to the position. “Having said that, there’s no question the actions of the few have given rise to cynicism.”
Prior to joining the Assembly in 2000, Heastie worked for the New York City Comptroller’s office as a budget analyst. He was chair of the Committee on Rules and Committee on Labor.