ALBANY - A grand jury indicted former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on three fraud and extortion charges yesterday, four weeks after he was arrested in a federal probe that rocked New York's political establishment.
Silver, one the most powerful men in state politics over the last 21 years, is alleged to have steered real estate legislation and medical research funds in return for $4 million in kickbacks disguised as legal referral fees. The indictment was handed up in a federal court in Manhattan, accusing Silver of mail fraud, wire fraud and extortion. The charges allege he deprived the public of his "honest services as an elected legislator and Speaker of the Assembly."
Silver was arrested on a five-count criminal complaint on Jan. 22 by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who faced a 30-day deadline to file a formal indictment. Attorneys on either side would not comment on why two conspiracy charges that were in the criminal complaint were not included in the indictment.
"Our client is not guilty," Silver attorney Joel Cohen said. "We can now begin to fight for his total vindication. We will do our fighting where it should be done: in court."
Silver is set to be arraigned Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan.
Silver, 71, has pleaded not guilty. Under pressure from his colleagues, Silver resigned Feb. 2 as speaker but has retained his Assembly seat.
Elected to the Assembly in 1976, Silver became speaker in 1994 and wielded extraordinary power as one of the "three men in a room" -- along with the governor and the Senate leader -- who negotiated state policy and appropriations.
Along the way, Bharara has alleged, Silver "amassed a tremendous personal fortune" by abusing his office.
The indictment Thursday largely recapped the earlier complaint. The fraud charges are based on the allegation that Silver "transmitted electronic mail, telephone calls and wire transfers of funds" to carry out moneymaking schemes.
One scheme allegedly involved getting a doctor to refer asbestos patients to Silver's law firm, Weitz & Luxenberg of Manhattan. Silver allegedly received $3.3 million in referral fees and directed $500,000 in state funds to the doctor's research hospital. The indictment noted that Silver "kept secret" from the law firm his relationship with the doctor, Robert Taub, who subsequently stepped down from Columbia University's Mesothelioma Center.
Silver has taken a leave from Weitz & Luxenberg.
The second scheme alleged Silver "induced" developers -- who had business before the state -- to use a real estate law firm with ties to the speaker to challenge property-tax assessments. Silver then received nearly $700,000 in referral fees, the indictment said.
One of the developers allegedly involved has been identified as Leonard Litwin, who heads the New Hyde Park-based Glenwood Management, a sprawling real estate company. Litwin and his associated companies have been the largest political contributors in the state since 2005.
With John Riley