Say it ain't so, Shelly Silver -- and see whether anybody believes you
"For many years, New Yorkers have asked the question, how could Speaker Silver, one of the most powerful men in all of New York, earn millions of dollars in outside income without deeply compromising his ability to honestly serve his constituents? Today, we provide the answer: He didn't."
—Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District
of New York, at yesterday's press conference
of New York, at yesterday's press conference
"At the news conference, Mr. Bharara offered a stinging assessment of a state capital where money flows freely and deals are cut behind closed doors -- sometimes at the expense of taxpayers, and to the enrichment of lawmakers. He said the charges against Mr. Silver 'go to the very core of what ails Albany.'
"Mr. Bharara added, somewhat ominously, that his office had a number of other public corruption investigations that were still continuing. 'You should stay tuned,' he said."
-- from reporting by the NYT's William K. Rashbaum,
Thomas Kaplan, and Marc Santora
Thomas Kaplan, and Marc Santora
"The day before his arrest, Mr. Silver was in Albany, where he attended Mr. Cuomo’s State of the State address and had a prominent seat on stage next to the governor. . . .
"After the disclosure, Mr. Silver said he had done nothing wrong but declined to comment in detail."
-- from the NYT report
When Sheldon Silver became speaker of the New York State Assembly, in February 1994, succeeding deceased-in-office Speaker Saul Weprin, the governor was Mario Cuomo, the first of five governors he has served alongside, the most recent being, of course, Mario's boy Andrew. This has made hime, for 21 years, one of the two or three most influential pols in the state.
Yesterday our Shelly was arrested by FBI agents for arraignment at the U.S. Courthouse on five federal corruption counts.
As the team of NYT reporters assigned to the story yesterday put it: "[T]he complaint against Mr. Silver outlines a capital culture rife with back-room dealing, where money and influence shape public policy for the benefit of private agendas."
Two things were pretty clear back in 2014 when Mario Cuomo's boy Andrew shut down the commission he himself had previously willed into existence with the supposed mission of rooting out corruption in state government. First, the commission had been decommissioned because its investigators were getting unacceptably nosy about business dealings of people in Boy Andrew's circle, including even His Boyhood himself. Second, if there was anyone who was really, really peeved by Boy Andrew's little comedy of corruption non-fighting, it was Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
USA Preet had been consulting and coordinating with the commission, and you got the feeling that he felt he'd been had -- that Boy Andrew, while pretending to be serious about exposing corruption in the way business is done in Albany and possibly doing something about it, had in fact been treating him like some kind of schnook for buying into the gag, like as if Boy Andrew had been serious about corruption-busting!
You also got the feeling we hadn't heard the last word on the subject of corruption in NYS government from USA Preet. And yesterday Shelly Silver surrendered his passport following his indictment on charges instigated by USA Preet's office.
People in that office, starting with the USA himself, were indicating that Speaker Shelly wasn't the only NYS pol whose business dealings they've been looking into. If Speaker Shelly's day was ruined, there are likely other NYS pols who were sweating bullets.
I was so taken aback by the news bulletings that I hardly paused in expending a nytimes.com free click on the paper's early coverage. That click turned out to be No. 5 of my allotted ten for the month of January, and I would do it again.
Now let's be clear that we operate under a legal presumption of innocence, and so as of now our Shelly is still as innocent as a new-born lamb. Still, you have to think that maybe USA Preet and his team haven't just made this stuff up. Here's some of what they're saying our Shelly did.
In a statement, Richard Frankel, the F.B.I. special agent in charge, said, “Those who make the laws don’t have the right to break the laws.”Oh yes, this brings us to one of my favorite details: "The authorities seized approximately $3.8 million of Mr. Silver’s money on Thursday morning." Now I suppose that in the Land of the 1% there are circles where it's regarded as no big deal having $3.8 million sitting around available for seizing on, say, some random Thursday morning in January. I figure if I emptied all my pants, really dug into the couch cushions, and tracked down the remnants of all the piles of would-be laundry quarters I've started around my apartment, the total would come to comfortably less than $3.8 million.
“As alleged, Silver took advantage of the political pulpit to benefit from unlawful profits,” he said. “When all was said and done, he amassed nearly $4 million in illegitimate proceeds and arranged for approximately $500,000 in state funds to be used for projects that benefited his personal plans.”
The criminal complaint outlining the charges accuses Mr. Silver of “using the power and influence of his official position to obtain for himself millions of dollars of bribes and kickbacks masked as legitimate income.”
He is charged with honest services mail and wire fraud, conspiracy to commit honest services mail fraud, extortion “under the color of law” — using his official position to commit extortion — and extortion conspiracy.
The complaint maintains that for more than a decade, Mr. Silver devised a scheme “to induce real estate developers with business before the state” to use a real estate law firm controlled by a lawyer who had once worked as Mr. Silver’s counsel. That lawyer, according to the complaint, orchestrated payments to the speaker for referrals to the firm.
The complaint, referring to the personal injury firm, Weitz and Luxenberg, also said that “there is probable cause to believe that Silver received approximately $4 million in payments characterized as attorney referral fees solely through the corrupt use of his official position.”
Prosecutors, according to the complaint, said Mr. Silver did no work for the payment. Investigators could find no court appearances by him and no records at either law firm that showed he had done any legal work whatsoever, except for one case in which he represented an employee of the Legislature in a property dispute, but took no fee.
Now we should stress that the way the NYS Legislature is set up, members are not only allowed but assumed to have outside income; it's not supposed to be a, you know, full-time job. Is our Shelly, to pick a random example, really supposed to get by on the mere $121K salary we the people pay him? The question is whether and where a line might be drawn between what's OK in the way of outside toil and what's not, so that if, say, your business is butchery, you and your family can keep the butcher shop going while you're feverishly legislating in Albany -- between that and, say, well, the sort of thing our Shelly is accused of doing.
Here's a little more of the NYT report:
While it is legal for lawmakers, who work part time, to hold outside jobs, investigators said Mr. Silver failed to list all the payments from the Goldberg firm and Weitz and Luxenberg on his annual financial disclosure filings with the state.There are aspects of this odd relationship to the law that our Shelly seems to have staked out which I want to discuss a little more -- including a seemingly out-of-left-field reference to the relationship to law outlined by an improbably related figure: Putin-struck but unbowed Russian oligarch-turned-"reformer" Mikhail Khodorkovsky. But for now let's close with one utterly unpardonable thing our Shelly has done.
The real estate firm is led by Jay Arthur Goldberg, 75, who once served as Mr. Silver’s counsel and also on New York City’s Tax Commission during the administration of Mayor Edward I. Koch.
In the past, Mr. Silver has been criticized for his outside law practice, a lucrative career that supplements the $121,000 he earns as speaker.
In 2013, on his most recent financial disclosure filing, Mr. Silver listed at least $650,000 in law practice income, including work for the personal injury law firm, Weitz and Luxenberg.
But what he does to earn that income has become one of Albany’s enduring mysteries, and Mr. Silver has refused to provide details about his work aside from saying the bulk of his work was as a personal injury lawyer.
The complaint said Mr. Silver was credited with referring more than 100 clients to the firm, the majority for potential asbestos litigation. Investigators, however, spoke with more than 10 of those individuals or their surviving relatives and found that none had ever contacted Mr. Silver to seek legal representation, nor had they been contacted by him or knew of any role he played in providing any legal service.
Mr. Silver was easily re-elected speaker this month when the Assembly gathered in Albany to begin the new legislative session.It's only to be expected that Republicans would pounce on our Shelly's misfortune. And make no mistake, when you're rummaging around the lower ranks of the human evolutionary spectrum, you're going to find NYS Assembly Republicans, essentially cut off from any sort of power for as far back as most minds go. The horrible thing is that this Hoylman yutz has a point. And this is what I consider unforgivable on our Shelly's part: to put a yutz like this Hoylman in a position where he has a point.
But as news of the arrest spread, there were signs that he might have trouble maintaining support.
State Senator Brad Hoylman, a Democrat from Manhattan, took to Twitter on Thursday to call for Mr. Silver’s resignation.
“Speaker Silver should resign for the good of the people of New York,” Mr. Hoylman wrote.