NEW YORK (PIX11) -- He's spent decades as one of the most powerful politicians in the country, but as of Thursday, New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver became an accused criminal. He's suspected of abusing the trust of the people who elected him in order to line his own pockets with millions of dollars.
Silver has posted bail after being charged with five felony criminal counts, including fraud, conspiracy and corruption. Upon turning himself in to federal authorities Thursday morning, he said he was convinced he'd be vindicated. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is prosecuting his case, and said by contrast that a jury will see that the legislator abused his power in order to benefit himself.
"Silver has amassed titanic political power," said Bharara at an early afternoon news conference, "but as alleged, Silver also has amassed tremendous wealth through the abuse of that political power."
Specifically, the U.S. attorney said, Silver created two different kickback schemes from which he benefited handsomely.
The first involved getting clients referred to the law firm for which Silver worked.
"Sheldon Silver did not have any legal or medical expertise" in asbestos or mesothelioma cases, Bharara said. "What he did have was extraordinary power over state money that he had the power ... to dole out quietly, even secretly," said the U.S. attorney.
Silver had been open in state filings about being on the payroll of the asbestos case law firm of Weitz & Luxenberg as an adviser. However, according to prosecutors, he worked with a doctor who specializes in cases involving mesothelioma, the illness that results from asbestos exposure.
The doctor, whose identity has been concealed in exchange for cooperation with authorities, would exclusively refer patients to Weitz & Luxenberg at Silver's direction, for which Silver got over $3 million in referral fees.
Furthermore, Bharara said, Silver secured state money for the doctor for mesothelioma research and other priorities requested by the doctor.
Silver was also involved in another kickback scheme, according to the 35-page criminal complaint against him, as well as according to the person who released it.
"Sheldon Silver, speaker of the assembly, was in fact on retainer to a mammoth real estate developer," said Bharara, "at the same time affecting the bottom line of that developer," the U.S. attorney said.
He alleged that the speaker secretly forced a Manhattan developer to work exclusively with another law firm with which Silver was affiliated. It specializes in real estate, and was founded and run by a former official legal advisor to Silver.
The legislature leader then helped to get laws passed that were favorable to the developer, and received referral fees from the law firm totaling about $700,000.
In all, according to the criminal complaint against him, Sheldon Silver pocketed $3.8 million from both alleged corruption schemes. That's equal to the amount of Silver's money, deposited in a half dozen bank accounts, that federal authorities have now frozen pending the outcome of the case against him.
For his part, Silver had very little to say after convincing a judge that he would post a $200,000 personal bond, allowing the assembly speaker to leave custody.
"I am confident, once all the issues are aired, I will be vindicated," Silver told a throng of dozens of cameras and reporters who mobbed him as he got into his SUV and his driver whisked him away.
His criminal case is just beginning. Its prosecutor warned that others are likely to follow. "Our unfinished fight against corruption continues," Bharara said. "You should stay tuned."