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Lawyers for Silver seek to limit corruption testimony at extortion trial

Former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver,

Former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, right, exits Federal Court in Manhattan after being re-arraigned on new charges on Tuesday, April 28, 2015. Silver was arraigned on additional corruption charges. Credit: Charles Eckert

Lawyers for former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver asked a federal judge in a motion filed Friday to limit at his upcoming extortion trial any testimony about corruption cases against other legislators or the reasons for creating the now-defunct Moreland Commission on Albany ethics.

"Lumping Mr. Silver together with other prosecuted New York legislators runs the obvious risk of guilt by association," Silver's lawyers told Manhattan U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni. "The Government seeks to paint Mr. Silver as merely the latest example of a long line of corrupt Albany politicians, implying that Mr. Silver must be corrupt because of his job."

Democrat Silver, 71, is scheduled to go on trial in November on charges that he used his legislative power in two schemes to generate $4 million in kickbacks in the form of fees from law firms he was affiliated with. He stepped down as speaker, but still represents an Assembly district in Manhattan.

Silver's lawyers said the government wants to put in Silver's comments, while speaker, on corruption cases against five ex-legislators, including Senate leader Joe Bruno, Sen. Carl Kruger and Assemb. William Boyland, as evidence to show Silver knew the legal limits on outside income for legislators.

They said prosecutors also claim they need to put in evidence of widespread corruption in Albany as a backdrop to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's creation of the Moreland Commission, because Silver allegedly took steps to conceal his outside income from the commission before it was dissolved.

"Evidence about that allegation requires no proof about Governor Cuomo's motives in forming the Commission, any historical events that may have informed those motives, and -- most certainly -- sordid (and often unproven) allegations about misconduct by other specific legislators," argued lawyers Joel Cohen and Steven Molo.

Attached to the filings was a letter from Moreland Commission officials telling prosecutors that they believed Cuomo and his staff intervened in its operations "in a manner that, at times, led them to question the independence" of the panel, The New York Times reported.

Silver's lawyers also asked Caproni to keep out evidence of $200,000 in campaign contributions from a company he helped, and a letter he wrote questioning the property tax assessment of the Manhattan housing complex where he lived, calling both matters irrelevant.

A spokesman for Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara had no comment on the filing.

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