Silver turned himself in to FBI agents Thursday morning as a result of a federal investigation into payments the lawmaker received from a small law firm in New York. Silver failed to mention the payments, which centered on real estate tax reductions, on his annual financial disclosure filings with the state of New York.
According to court documents outlining the charges, Silver has been accused 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.”
Silver is the second longest serving speaker in New York history, having served for two decades. In addition to the $121,000 Silver makes as speaker, he earned between $650,000 and $750,000 in 2013 as an attorney, a salary he has long been scrutinized for but about which he has never been transparent.
The investigation came about amid a separate investigation into an anti-corruption panel commissioned by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). The governor shut down the panel in March.
Silver said, “I hope I’ll be vindicated," before entering the FBI offices at 26 Federal Plaza, according to the New York Times.
Below, more from the Associated Press:
NEW YORK (AP) — Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who bent state government to his will for more than 20 years as one of New York's most powerful and canny politicians, was arrested Thursday on charges of taking nearly $4 million in payoffs and kickbacks.
The 70-year-old Democrat was taken into custody by the FBI on federal conspiracy and bribery charges that carry up to 100 years in prison and could cost him his political seat. He was released on $200,000 bail.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Silver — a lawyer by training — lined up jobs at two firms and then accepted large sums of money over more than a decade in exchange for using his "titanic" power to do political favors. The money was disguised as "referral fees," Bharara said.
"I'm confident that after a full hearing and due process I'll be vindicated on the charges," said Silver, who seemed unfazed in court, even pausing on his way out to sign a sketch artist's rendering of the scene. He did not enter a plea.
The arrest sent shock waves through New York's Capitol and came just a day after Silver shared the stage with Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo during his State of the State address, as Cuomo joked that he, Silver and the Senate majority leader were the "three amigos" of state government.
At a meeting Thursday with the Daily News editorial board, Cuomo said of Silver's arrest: "Obviously it's bad for the speaker, but it's also a bad reflection on government, and it adds to the negativity."
Silver is one of Albany's most storied political figures, a consummate backroom operator with the power to single-handedly decide the fate of legislation.
Along with the Senate majority leader and the governor, he plays a major role in creating state budgets, laws and policies in a system long criticized in Albany as "three men in a room." He controls, for example, which lawmakers sit on which committees and decides whether a bill gets a vote.
In a measure of his clout, he helped persuade Cuomo last spring to disband a state anti-corruption commission that was investigating Silver's financial dealings and those of his colleagues.
Despite his outsized influence, he is pretty much an unknown outside New York State. Even in Albany, he is one of the most private and least-understood figures, sometimes called "the Sphinx."
Silver's wealth has long been a subject of discussion and controversy. But Bharara said New Yorkers could stop wondering.
"Speaker Silver never did any legal work," the federal prosecutor said. "He simply sat back and collected millions of dollars by cashing in on his public office and political influence."
Silver is the sixth New York legislative leader to face prosecution in the past six years.
Bharara said the charges against Silver make clear that "the show-me-the-money culture of Albany has been perpetuated and promoted at the very top of the political food chain."
Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle said Silver still has the backing of an overwhelming number of the chamber's Democrats, and they are not seeking his resignation as speaker.
"We believe he can carry out his duties as speaker," Morelle said. "We're going to stand with him. ... We have faith in the speaker."
At one law firm specializing in personal injury and asbestos removal, Weitz & Luxenberg, Silver collected millions in so-called referral fees for lining up state grants for a doctor's research, according to prosecutors.
At a firm specializing in real estate tax law, Silver received big fees for using his political clout to steer powerful developers to the firm as clients, authorities said.
A graduate of Brooklyn Law School, Silver was first elected to the Assembly in 1976, representing a district on Manhattan's Lower East Side, where he was born and still lives.
Silver has gone toe-to-toe with five New York governors — from Mario Cuomo to his son Andrew Cuomo — since early 1994, when he was selected speaker.
He has championed liberal causes in the Legislature, using his position as a powerbroker to support teachers, trial lawyers and civil service unions.