Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver more than doubled his money over an eight-year period, to $1.4 million, by investing in a little-known fund not generally available to others, according to testimony Wednesday at his federal corruption trial in Manhattan.
The investment with Counsel Financial, a Buffalo-area firm that gave loans to trial lawyers to finance the cost of their lawsuits, was made at the recommendation of Silver's golfing buddy and political supporter Jordan Levy. Levy, of Buffalo, testified at the trial in U.S. District Court Wednesday.
Silver also put tens of thousands of dollars in other investments, including an Australian firm building a space satellite, a company that develops portals for the Internet and a firm that lends money to risky start-up companies, according to Levy.
The nature of the investments was in contrast to previous public statements Silver made over the years in which he characterized them as being in solid, traditional businesses.
Silver, 71, is charged with making $4 million in law firm referral fees in two quid pro quo schemes and money laundering.
The Democratic lawmaker allegedly gave state grants to a doctor who referred asbestos patients to his law firm, and he did legislative favors for New Hyde Park's Glenwood Management and the Witkoff Group to get them to refer cases to the law firm Goldberg & Iryami in return for Goldberg splitting fees with him.In a statement from July 2013, which was played in court Tuesday, Silver told news reporters his investments were in "blue chip stocks like millions of Americans in their retirement accounts."
The prosecution rested its case Wednesday night. The defense was expected to introduce exhibits Monday, but Silver is not expected to testify.
At one point in 2013, Silver had Counsel Financial combine his holdings with $100,000 he had invested in the name of his wife, Rosa, and then split the total between them so he could report the lower amount on his state financial disclosure, Levy said in his testimony.
By splitting the amount, "It would allow him not to disclose [it]" said Levy, a financier.
Paul Cody, president of Counsel, testified Wednesday that Silver and his wife made several investments totaling $650,000 with his firm, beginning in 2007, and had a balance of $1.4 million at the end of 2014.
Before the financial testimony, jurors heard a tape in which Silver told news reporters his private law business included asbestos cases.
The tape, played during testimony by former Silver press secretary Michael Whyland, appeared to contradict prosecution claims Silver kept secret his receipt of fees on asbestos cases while giving state research grants to a doctor who referred patients to Silver's firm.
Whyland said it was recorded in an elevator in an Albany state building, as news reporters grilled Silver about the nature of his income from the Manhattan law firm Weitz & Luxenberg.
"That's correct," Whyland answered when a defense attorney asked if the ex-speaker was telling the news reporters about asbestos cases in the tape.
Prosecutors on Tuesday played an earlier segment of the same interview in which Silver said he "didn't represent any corporations" or any clients "involved in the legislative process."
Prosecutor Howard Gildstein asked Whyland if Silver ever told him he was getting hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees from a real estate law firm.
"I had no knowledge of that," Whyland testified.
The trial will not be in session Thursday or Friday. Closing arguments in the case could occur as early as Monday.