Watch CBS News

Silver Vows Vindication Following Arrest On Corruption Charges

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is vowing to clear his name after his arrest Thursday on conspiracy and bribery charges.

The 70-year-old Democrat was taken into custody by the FBI on federal charges that he took nearly $4 million in payoffs and kickbacks, crimes that carry up to 100 years in prison and could cost him his political seat. He was released on $200,000 bail.

Silver, who seemed unfazed in court, did not enter a plea.

"I'm confident that after a full hearing and due process I'll be vindicated on the charges,'' he said and even paused on his way out of court to sign a sketch artist's rendering of the scene.

Silver Vows Vindication Following Arrest On Corruption Charges

Silver said he will not step aside to let someone else take over the legislative chamber or resign his seat. He will continue to collect his approximately $121,000 salary as speaker.

EXTRA: Click Here To Read The Full Complaint

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Silver, a lawyer by training, lined up jobs at two firms and then accepted large sums of money over more than a decade in exchange for using his "titanic'' power to do political favors. The money was disguised as "referral fees,'' Bharara said.

"As alleged, Silver corruptly used his law license and took advantage of lax outside income rules as a cover to secretly pocket millions of dollars through his official position," Bharara said.

Bharara said the charges against Silver make clear that "the show-me-the-money culture of Albany has been perpetuated and promoted at the very top of the political food chain.''

At one law firm specializing in personal injury and asbestos removal, Weitz & Luxenberg, Silver collected millions of dollars in so-called referral fees for lining up state grants for a doctor's research, according to prosecutors.

At a firm specializing in real estate tax law, Silver received big fees for using his political clout to steer powerful developers to the firm as clients, authorities said.

Silver Vows Vindication Following Arrest On Corruption Charges

"Speaker Silver never did any legal work,'' Bharara said. "He simply sat back and collected millions of dollars by cashing in on his public office and political influence.''

Bharara took over the files of the Moreland anti-corruption commission after Gov. Andrew Cuomo closed it in April.

When the commission began to investigate public corruption in 2013, including outside income earned by Silver and other state legislators, "Silver took legal action and other steps to prevent the disclosure of such information," the complaint said.

It noted that Silver publicly accused the commission of abusing its power by engaging "in a fishing expedition to intimidate legislators.''

The complaint said Cuomo disbanded the commission in March only after Silver and his staff played a key role in negotiations in which the Legislature agreed to certain changes to campaign finance reporting requirements and bribery laws.

"A deal was cut that cut off the commission's work to the great relief of Sheldon Silver, who furiously fought the commission's subpoenas and urged its shutdown," Bharara said.

The arrest sent shock waves through Albany and came just a day after Silver shared the stage with Cuomo during his State of the State address, as Cuomo joked that he, Silver and the Senate majority leader were the "three amigos'' of state government.

Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle said Silver still has the backing of an overwhelming number of the chamber's Democrats and they are not seeking his resignation as speaker.

"We believe he can carry out his duties as speaker,'' Morelle said. "We're going to stand with him. --- We have faith in the speaker.''

Mayor Bill de Blasio said that although the allegations against Silver are serious, he has always known Silver to be a man of integrity.

"I think he has a right to due process, that's something we always need to affirm. Allegations are allegations and charges are charges and there has to be a process to determine the outcome," he said. "I think separately, it's a true statement, he's done a lot for New York City and I value that certainly."

Republicans, however, were quick to call for Silver to step down as speaker.

"With this hanging over his head, I don't think he can carry on,'' said Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua. If Silver doesn't resign, "it certainly will cast a dark cloud over the chamber,'' Kolb said.

Baruch College Public Affairs Professor Doug Muzzio said Silver will remain speaker unless he's convicted or removed by the Democratic conference.

"By law he can remain until or if he is convicted of a felony," he said. "Does he remain is question one and the other question is what do the members of the Assembly want?

Silver has served as speaker of the Democrat-controlled Assembly for more than two decades and is one of the most influential people in New York state government.

Along with the Senate majority leader and the governor, Silver plays a major role in creating state budgets, laws and policies. He controls, for example, which lawmakers sit on which committees and decides whether a bill gets a vote.

Thursday's meeting of the Assembly was canceled. The chamber is next scheduled to meet on Monday.

(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.)

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.