“We simply want people in high office to stop violating the law...People elected to make laws should not be breaking them.”
Phew, Lots of goings on in state politics New York in the last week. Last Friday, the citizens of my fair state woke to photos splashed all over the papers of Sheldon Silver, venerable and all-powerful Speaker of the Assembly, being led away in handcuffs. Thanks to the investigation headed by the US Attorney of the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara who took up the gauntlet when it was abuptly dropped by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mr. Silver has been charged with five counts of crimes against of the citizens of New York including allegedly "us[ing] the power and influence of his official position to obtain for himself millions of dollars masked as legitimate income earned...as a private lawyer" and "knowingly did combine, conspire, confederate...to willfully and knowingly obstruct, delay, and affect in any way and degree commerce...by extortion..."
In his press conference after the Silver arrest, Bharara ended with this:
"These charges in our view go to the very core of what ails Albany: lack of transparency, lack of accountability, and lack of principle — joined with overabundance of greed, cronyism, and self-dealing. But we will keep at it. As our unfinished fight against public corruption continues, you should stay tuned."Silver was elected to the state assembly to represent lower Manhattan in 1977 and proceeded to gain more and more power and influence culminating in his appointment as Speaker of the Assembly in 1994 and a position he has held for 20 years until this week. Mr. Silver has spent his time in the Assembly gaining more and more power until he is now the most influencial Democrat in the state of New York. He has also spent his time making himself a very wealthy man. While serving as our esteemed Speaker, he has also been on the payroll of one the most influential and powerful plaintiff products liablility law firms in the state. Though he diligently reported some of the millions he was paid by this firm on his mandated yearly disclosure forms, he refused to answer questions as to what he did to earn his millions claiming that it would compromise his "client/attorney" privilege to divulge that information. This is important in that a simple docket search yielded only one case in which Mr. Silver was listed as the attorney of record. Oh, and this is kind of important too - he has spent much time blocking any kind of tort reform legislation in the state.
As I have written about before, we have a problem with "ethics" in our state legislature. So much of a problem that 22 elected officials have been indicted, tried, and jailed in the last 10 years and a Governor who was forced to resigned because of his taste for transporting prostitutes across state line for the purpose of...well, I don't really have to spell it out, do I? This is where Governor Cuomo's problems enter in. When Cuomo was elected as our governor, he promised to clean up Albany. It took him a while, but in early 2014, Cuomo invoked his governorly duties by appointing a commission of hand-picked members to investigate the ethics and corruption in our state government. The Moreland Commission, as it was called began diligently investigating any allegations of unethical behavior and asking questions, lots of questions. However, when their investigation began to close in on Speaker Silver with multiple subpoenaes, and little too close to the Governors office, Governor Cuomo abruptly quashed the Commission. His public excuse was that he had stuck some vague deal with Mr. Silver and the Legislature that they would pass new ethics laws real soon. Interestingly, Cuomo quashed his own commission right before the 2014 general elections.
Well, this came to the attention of our intrepid US Attorney Preet Bharara who smelled a rat. He asked the Commission to turn over all their files to his office which they did and his office started their own investigation. During their investigation, they discovered that not only was Mr. Silver on the payroll of one highly influencial law firm, he also had not disclose that he was kicking back a "finders fee" to a prominent Oncologist to direct his patients to the law firm. And this prominent Oncologist was awarded $500,000 in research grants from the taxpayers awarded by the very generous...Mr. Silver. What a coikidink! Then it was discovered during the investigation that Mr. Silver had failed to disclose more millions that he was paid by another law firm. This firm was an influencial real estate that brokered real estate transaction that came with huge tax rebates from the state. Transactions that were directed to the law firm by...Mr. Silver. Oops, but it was just a clerical error...no, he just forgot about those millions.
Silver isn't going down without a fight. While in closed meetings with his fellow Assembly Democrats this week he tried his hardest to make a deal that he wouldn't have to actually resign, but maybe just appoint a 5-person "committee" of hand-picked cronies who could just take over temporarily until he could be fully exonerated of all of the scurrilous charges and resume his powerful post. That did not fly so well and he has been forced to resign his post effective Monday.
Preet Bharara did not file these charges lightly and he knows what he is doing. And if he is successful which I have every confidence he will be, Silver will most likely go to prison and hopefully lose his state funded pension and Governor Cuomo will have to answer questions as to what he knew about all of this, when he knew about it and why he disbanded his own Commission when it was obvious what Mr. Silver had been up to all these years. Bharara has indicated to a very nervous Albany that he has "a number of public corruption investigations going on", so stay tuned.