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Ex-NY Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver Pleads Not Guilty In Bribery Case

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's lawyers asked a judge to throw out a bribery case against him Tuesday, saying the prosecutor went too far in discussing the case publicly.

Authorities say the Democrat exploited his power to reap $4 million in kickbacks in a case that has rocked New York's power structure.

But as CBS2's Lou Young reported, Silver's legal team said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who brought the case, has overstepped his bounds -- especially making comments about the way New York State government operates.

"We've moved to dismiss the indictment based upon the prosecutor's improper, extrajudicial comments throughout this case," said attorney Joe Cohen, representing Silver.

Silver defense lawyer Steve Molo said Bharara's statements after Silver's arrest broke rules about what prosecutors can say outside of court, and prejudiced the grand jury that indicted him last week.

Ex-NY Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver Pleads Not Guilty In Bribery Case

"The U.S. attorney excoriated the defendant and basically deprived him of the presumption of innocence, and basically extolled his guilt,'' Molo said.

"We moved to dismiss the indictment based on the prosecutor's improper extra-judicial comments," Molo added.

As WCBS 880's Alex Silverman reported, Molo argued Bharara ran a campaign to smear Silver in a press conference and national TV interview.

Silver emerged from a black sport-utility vehicle Tuesday at the old federal courthouse downtown. He seemed relaxed and outwardly confident as he marched into a battery of cameras, which parted or fell to the ground on the icy pavement before him.

"I'll talk to you after," Silver said, declining comment as he entered court.

About 20 minutes later, Silver walked out -- still free on $200,000 bond, and having pleaded not guilty to the three criminal counsel of mail and wire fraud and called "extortion under the color of official right." The term is fancy way of claiming Silver sold his influence for millions, pushing legislation and secretly funneling litigation clients to a law firm in exchange for massive fees.

He says the claims are not true.

"I will only say to you that I believe when this process is over, I will be vindicated," Silver told reporters, including 1010 WINS' Kevin Rincon. "I am not guilty."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Cohen said Bharara's statements were nothing unusual or extraordinary and didn't affect the grand jury. "All of the allegations by Mr. Molo just now in court are baseless,'' she said.

The judge is expected to rule on the motion in May, Young reported.

During more than 20 years as Assembly speaker, Silver played a major part in creating state budgets and policies as one of Albany's "three men in a room'' when big decisions are made: the governor, the Senate majority leader and the speaker.

Ex-NY Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver Pleads Not Guilty In Bribery Case

Known as a backroom master, Silver could single-handedly decide the fate of legislation, determining which proposals came up for an Assembly vote.

Prosecutors allege he illegally cashed in on his outsize influence, making big money by doing political favors -- not legal work -- for law firms.

The case prompted Silver's resignation from a leadership role that made him one of the state's foremost power brokers, roiling a state capital where 28 legislators have stepped down because of criminal or ethical issues during the past 15 years. Four others, including Silver, remain in office while fighting charges.

He stepped down as speaker after his January arrest, but he retains the lower Manhattan Assembly seat he has held for nearly 40 years.

On Tuesday, Silver said his work in Albany won't be impacted, adding that he hasn't missed a vote or community event since being charged, Rincon reported.

The case demonstrates that "the show-me-the-money culture of Albany has been perpetuated and promoted at the very top of the political food chain,'' Bharara said in announcing Silver's arrest last month on charges including honest service fraud and extortion under the color of official duties. Silver was indicted last week.

The case centers on law firm "referral fees'' that prosecutors say were actually kickbacks to Silver, 70, who is an attorney.

One firm specializes in representing people who say they have been sickened by asbestos. The firm paid Silver more than $3 million while he quietly arranged $500,000 in state grants benefiting a doctor who referred his patients to the firm, prosecutors said. While Silver said he spent several hours each week evaluating potential cases for the firm, prosecutors said he did no work on the asbestos cases.

Meanwhile, a real estate tax law firm paid Silver for using his political clout to net powerful developers as clients, prosecutors said. A Silver representative has said none of Silver's legal clients had business before the state, but prosecutors say he provided key support for a proposal made by one of the developers.

Silver's successor as Assembly speaker, Democrat Carl Heastie, has promised to focus on ethics and integrity. His proposals include new limits on how much outside income lawmakers can earn.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has suggested his own proposals, including full disclosure of outside income.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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