Superstar Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara scored another victory on Friday, July 24th, when Manhattan U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni denied former Democratic New York Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver’s motion to dismiss the corruption indictment filed against him. Prosecutors allege that Silver used his position to funnel money involving asbestos-related litigation and real-estate referrals to two law firms with which he was affiliated. The indictment alleges that Silver received at least $4 million and as much as $6 million in total kickbacks, illegal fees, fraud, and extortion since 2002. Silver resigned his speaker position in January in order to fight the charges, although remaining in the Assembly. Silver tried previously to convince the judge to drop the charges, with Silver’s attorneys arguing in April that Bharara was trying the case in the press, calling it a “media blitz” against New York politicians. Judge Caproni denied the motion, but criticized Bharara for not keeping the comments to the courtroom. Bharara’s office has also indicted former Republican New York Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos for a host of corruption charges. Like Silver, Skelos resigned his leadership post, but remains in office fighting the charges, including three new counts this week. The management teams of the associated firms are not suspected of knowing that any wrongdoing had occurred.
Like Skelos, Bharara’s office brought new charges against Silver in April, following Silver’s first motion. The new charges allege that Silver also used his relationship with an investor put the ill-gotten gains into a high-yield fund, while concealing the investments. Details of the most recent charges are unclear; however the government must provide a bill of particulars to the court by August 14th. In the most recent proceedings, Silver’s attorney Steven Molo argued that prosecutors overshot their claims. Molo tried to convince the judge that the payments should be considered, at worst, to be conflicts-of-interest and not kickbacks. Molo also argued that the asbestos scheme was more a matter of coercion and not “Hobbes Act extortion.” Judge Caproni did not buy the argument, however. Instead, she ruled in her opinion that “Silver’s argument misses the distinction between the two categories of cases. The fact that the payments Silver allegedly received as ‘bribes’ or ‘kickbacks’ were funneled through entities in which he had an undisclosed interest does not transform the bribery or kickback schemes into ‘undisclosed conflict-of-interest’ schemes.” If convicted on all counts, Sheldon could face up to 20 years in prison.
The Silver and Skelos cases are not the only corruption scandals encircling Albany by any means. Although Bharara’s office is not involved, another former high-ranking state Senator, Democrat John L. Sampson was convicted on Friday of three felony charges, obstruction of justice and two counts of making false statements. Unlike Skelos and Silver, Sampson’s felony convictions cost him his Senate seat effective immediately after the verdict. On Wednesday, former Senate Deputy Majority Leader, Republican Tom Libous, was convicted of lying to an FBI officer, costing him his seat after serving for 25 years. Former Democratic Majority Leaders Pedro Espada Jr. and Malcom Smith have also been convicted in recent years due to corruption. Both Libous and Smith’s cases were also prosecuted by Bharara’s office. In total, 31 state-level officials have either been indicted, or resigned amid scandal since 2000, 10 since 2013.
Albany Times-Union – Rick Karlin
Bloomberg News – Patricia Hurtado
Courthouse News Service – Adam Klasfeld