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Sheldon Silver had sole control over funds, witnesses testify

Former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver,

Former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, left, arrives at Federal Court in Manhattan for the third day of his trial on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Witnesses at the federal corruption trial of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver testified Tuesday that he had unilateral control over health funds he used to give $500,000 in grants to a doctor who was referring asbestos-disease victims to his law firm.

Two Assembly budget aides said Silver alone decided on the pot of "discretionary" money used to fund Dr. Robert Taub's mesothelioma research, and there was no public notice letting voters know which legislators were sponsoring which grants.

Witnesses from the attorney general's office and the state health department testified the grants got only perfunctory review, and one-time health official Dennis Whalen said Silver didn't reveal he was getting potentially lucrative cases from the grant recipient.

"Nowhere," testified Whalen, who now heads a statewide hospital lobbying group.

Silver, 71, is charged in federal court in Manhattan with bribe-taking, extortion and money-laundering, accused of using his power to help Taub in return for legal fees, and a similar scheme involving two developers. The trial began last week.

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