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Assembly Speaker Silver arrested on apparent corruption charges

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan.

Updated, 11:45 a.m.:

The Democratic Speaker of the New York State Assembly was arrested early Thursday morning by federal officials on corruption charges.

The investigation and pending arrest was first reported by The New York Times. It was later confirmed by the FBI. 

The FBI and U.S. Attorney's office has scheduled an afternoon press conference.

The federal complaint against Silver accuses him of mail fraud and the federal crime of theft of honest services, saying he engaged in a scheme since 2000 to use the power and influence of his official position to obtain for himself over $6 million, including $700,000 in bribes and kickbacks masked as legitimate income he earned as a private lawyer.

The complaint labels the actions as a “secret and corrupt scheme” saying the speaker told the public that he worked at a law firm where private citizens hired him to represent them in personal injury lawsuits, and that none of his clients had any business before the state. Silver at one time said he represented “plain, ordinary, simple people.” 

The complaint charges that those representations were  false and misleading. They say instead Silver illegally obtained millions of dollars in attorney referral fees for himself, when he connected with clients who in fact had substantial business before the state. 

Silver allegedly also steered real estate developers to a special law firm that deals in obtaining tax breaks for the developers. The law firm is run by a previous Silver aid. The Speaker has no background in real estate tax law.

Silver is also accused of secretly directing half a million dollars in state funds to a doctor who treated asbestos related cancers. That doctor, the complaint alleges, then steered those patients to Weitz and Luxenburg, a firm that pays Silver, which is involved in an asbestos class action lawsuit. 

Silver claimed to have referred hundreds of asbestos cases to Weitz and Luxenburg, but when investigators contacted the clients, they said they’d never spoken to Silver. 

According to the complaint, the charges stem from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Moreland Act commission on public corruption, which began several investigations but was abruptly shut down by Cuomo nearly a year ago as part of a budget deal.

Silver may also have violated state laws for failing to report accurately about his outside income and it’s sources.

The full complaint from prosecutors, as posted by TWC News' Nick Reisman, can be read here.

The arrest, The New York Times is reporting, has to do with payments Silver received from a New York City law firm:

The investigation of Mr. Silver began after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in March abruptly shut down an anticorruption commission he had created in 2013. The federal inquiry focused on payments that Mr. Silver received from a small law firm that specializes in seeking reductions of New York City real estate taxes. While it is legal for lawmakers to hold outside jobs, investigators said Mr. Silver failed to list the payments from the firm, Goldberg & Iryami, on his annual financial disclosure filings with the state.

Silver, 70, has led the Democratically-controlled Assembly for two decades. From Manhattan, he's one of the most influential leaders in Albany, often negotiating budgets and key legislation with the governor and Senate majority leader.

Silver's attorney told the Associated Press the charges are "meritless." 

More from the AP:

The arrest sent shock waves through New York's Capitol as a new legislative session has begun, and it came just a day after Silver shared the stage with Gov. Andrew Cuomo during his State of the State address.

Republicans in New York have already begun to call for Silver's resignation. 

"Sheldon Silver must immediately resign from the State Assembly," said a state GOP spokesman in a statement. "While this is another sad day for New York, we cannot be distracted from the important business of growing our economy and creating jobs."

State Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Democrat from New York City, tweeted that Silver should step down "for the good people of New York."

Assembly Democrats canceled their morning session and are instead holding a closed-door meeting, WRVO Capitol Correspondent Karen DeWitt is reporting.

Onondaga County Republican Party Chairman Tom Dadey issued the following statement:

Today is another sad day for New York State when we see yet another elected official arrested. Reports of this morning's arrest of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on federal corruption charges are deeply troubling. On their own, these allegations will only grow the distrust New Yorkers now feel towards Albany. We need more transparency and disclosure, stronger ethics laws, term limits and we need to eliminate the bad apples. I am hopeful that our local Assembly delegation, including Assembly members Magnarelli, Roberts and Stirpe will show true leadership and call for the Speaker's ouster.

Through a spokeswoman, Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli, D-Syracuse, issued the following statement:

“I am monitoring the situation and have no more information than what I have read in the press. We have to let our system of justice play out and due process given. I trust that is what will happen in the coming days.”

Assemblyman Bill MaGee, D-Nelson, declined to comment to WRVO, saying health problems have kept him out of the loop today.

Check back for more details.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.