Feds: NY Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver masked bribes as legitimate income

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New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver Corruption
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Feds: NY Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver masked bribes as legitimate income
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 30: Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver leaves a federal court in Lower Manhattan on November 30, 2015 in New York City. A jury found Silver guilty on all seven charges against him in a federal corruption trial that lasted five-weeks. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver exits Manhattan federal court following his conviction on corruption charges, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Bryan R. Smith)
Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver exits Manhattan federal court following his conviction on corruption charges, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Bryan R. Smith)
Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver arrives to the courthouse in New York, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015. Silver, a Manhattan Democrat who led the Assembly for 20 years, is accused of taking more than $4 million in bribes and kickbacks. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver arrives at the courthouse in New York, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015. A jury heard Silver's corruption case boiled down to two conflicting portrayals of the once-powerful Democrat: one as a greedy lawmaker who enriched himself with bribery and another as a seasoned politician who played by the rules regarding outside income. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, center, is surrounded by members of the media as he leaves a federal courthouse in New York, Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015. Silver faces arraignment on bribery charges that spurred his resignation from his role as one of New York's foremost political powerbrokers. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
FILE - In this June 18, 2015, file photo, Assemblyman Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, prepares to leave the Assembly Chamber after the Assembly voted in favor of a five-day extension on New York City's rent regulations at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y. The former New York state assembly speaker lost a bid Friday, July 24, to toss out corruption charges against him. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)
New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is transported by federal agents to federal court, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015 in New York. Silver, who has been one of the most powerful men in Albany for more than two decades, was arrested Thursday on public corruption charges. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, center, is driven by federal agents to federal court, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015 in New York. Silver, who has been one of the most powerful men in Albany for more than two decades, was arrested Thursday on public corruption charges. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, right, talks with Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, D-Rochester, at the start of the 2015 legislative session in the Assembly Chamber at the state Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
A special agent stands next to a chart detailing the alleged real estate kickbacks received by New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver during a news conference by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015 in New York. Silver has been arrested on public corruption charges. He's accused of using his position as one of the state's most powerful politicians to obtain millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks masked as legitimate income. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, center, confers with Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, D-Rochester, left, and Brian Coyne, director of legislative operations, at the start of the 2015 legislative session in the Assembly Chamber at the state Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015, in Albany, N.Y. The Assembly and Senate both convened Wednesday for the start of the six-month 2015 legislative session. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 09: New York Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver attends Century 21 Department Store Expansion Ribbing Cutting Ceremony at Century 21 on April 9, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, walks on the floor in the Assembly Chamber at the start of the 2015 legislative session at the state Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015, in Albany, N.Y. The Assembly and Senate both convened Wednesday for the start of the six-month 2015 legislative session. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, talks in the Assembly Chamber at the start of the 2015 legislative session at the state Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015, in Albany, N.Y. The Assembly and Senate both convened Wednesday for the start of the six-month 2015 legislative session.(AP Photo/Mike Groll)
FILE--In this Feb. 25, 2014 file photo, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, speaks during a New York Dream Act news conference at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y. Bill sponsor Assemblyman Francisco Moya, D-Jackson Heights, stands right. (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File)
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, left, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, talk during a news conference announcing an agreement on legislation legalizing medical marijuana on Thursday, June 19, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. A vote on the legislation is expected Thursday night when the legislative session is scheduled to end. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
From left Senate co-leader Jeff Klein, D-Bronx, Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos, R-Rockville Centre, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, leave a news conference in the Red Room at the Capitol on Wednesday, June 18, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, in the Assembly Chamber on Wednesday, June 18, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, in the Assembly Chamber on Wednesday, June 18, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, talks to reporters in a hallway at the Capitol on Friday, March 28, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, left, and Assemblyman Francisco Moya, D-Jackson Heights, on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, left, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, on Thursday, March 20, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 09: New York Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver attends Century 21 Department Store Expansion Ribbing Cutting Ceremony at Century 21 on April 9, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, during a news conference on Wednesday, June 18, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 09: Senator Daniel L. Squadron and New York Assembley Speaker Sheldon Silver attend Century 21 Department Store Expansion Ribbing Cutting Ceremony at Century 21 on April 9, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by John Lamparski/WireImage)
ALBANY, NY - MARCH 12: Speaker of the New York State Assembly Sheldon Silver walks in front of the State Capitol March 12, 2008 in Albany, New York. New York State Governor Eliot Spitzer announced his resignation today after various media reports have linked him to a prostitution ring. New York Lieutenant Governor David Paterson will take over for Spitzer when his resignation goes into effect Monday, March 17, 2008. (Photo by Daniel Barry/Getty Images)
ALBANY, NY - MARCH 12: Speaker of the New York State Assembly Sheldon Silver speaks to members of the media in the State Capitol March 12, 2008 in Albany, New York. New York state Governor Eliot Spitzer announced his resignation today after various media reports have linked him to a prostitution ring. New York Lieutenant Governor David Paterson will take over for Spitzer when his resignation goes into effect Monday, March 17, 2008. (Photo by Daniel Barry/Getty Images)
ALBANY, NY - MARCH 12: Speaker of the New York State Assembly Sheldon Silver speaks to members of the media in the State Capitol March 12, 2008 in Albany, New York. New York state Governor Eliot Spitzer announced his resignation today after various media reports have linked him to a prostitution ring. New York Lieutenant Governor David Paterson will take over for Spitzer when his resignation goes into effect Monday, March 17, 2008. (Photo by Daniel Barry/Getty Images)
NBC NEWS -- Pictured: New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver moderates questions to two officials of the Bovis Lend Lease Company who are the contractors for dismantling the now infamous Deutsche Bank building in downtown Mahattan, New York, New York on August 29, 2007 (Photo by Curtis Means/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 05: Mayor Bloomberg met with Sheldon Silver in City Hall reportedly to discuss the West Side Stadium proposal. Silver leaving City Hall. (Photo by Andrew Savulich/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 15: State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver at hearing on Con Ed's role in the prolonged blackout in Washington Heights. (Photo by Thomas Monaster/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) -- New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was arrested Thursday on corruption charges and accused of using his position as one of the most powerful politicians in Albany to obtain millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks masked as legitimate income.

The 70-year-old Silver was taken into custody around 8 a.m. at the FBI's New York City office, FBI spokesman Peter Donald confirmed. Silver faces five counts, including conspiracy and bribery, and the charges carry a potential penalty of 100 years in prison.

In a criminal complaint, authorities said Silver abused his power and "obtained about $4 million in payments characterized as attorney referral fees solely through the corrupt use of his official position."

Silver's attorney, Joel Cohen, called the charges "meritless."

"Mr. Silver looks forward to responding to them - in court - and ultimately his full exoneration," Cohen said in a statement.

Silver was expected to make a court appearance later Thursday.

The arrest sent shock waves through New York's Capitol as a new legislative session began, and it came just a day after Silver shared the stage with Gov. Andrew Cuomo during his State of the State address.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara took over the files of New York's Moreland anti-corruption commission after Cuomo closed it in April. Bharara said in October that investigations into Albany's pay-to-play politics are continuing.

The commission and Bharara were looking into lawmakers' earnings outside their state salaries. Silver's outside income has long been a subject of discussion and controversy. Last year, he reported making up to $750,000 for legal work, mostly with the trial firm of Weitz & Luxenberg.

When the commission began to investigate public corruption in 2013, including outside income earned by Silver and other state legislators, "Silver took legal action and other steps to prevent the disclosure of such information," the complaint said.

It noted that Silver publicly accused the commission of abusing its power by engaging "in a fishing expedition to intimidate legislators."

The complaint said Cuomo disbanded the commission in March only after Silver and his staff played a key role in negotiations in which the Legislature agreed to certain changes to campaign finance reporting requirements and bribery laws.

As speaker of the Democrat-controlled Assembly, Silver is one of the most influential people in New York state government. 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."

The Assembly canceled a scheduled Thursday session. Assembly Democrats were supporting Silver and not seeking his resignation as speaker, according to Majority Leader Joe Morelle, who spoke following a nearly two-hour closed door meeting.

He said Silver had the backing of an "overwhelming" number of the chamber's Democrats.

"We believe he can carry out his duties as speaker," Morelle said, standing in front of about two dozen fellow lawmakers. "We're going to stand with him. ... We have faith in the speaker."

Silver has gone toe-to-toe with five New York governors - from the late Mario Cuomo to his son Andrew Cuomo - since early 1994, when he was selected Assembly speaker to replace the ailing Saul Welprin.

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 with his wife, Rosa. The complaint noted that his total annual salary and compensation is $121,000, plus per diem pay, a car and driver and travel reimbursement.

A graduate of Brooklyn Law School and a practicing attorney, Silver has championed liberal causes in the Legislature, where he has used his position as a powerbroker to support teachers, trial lawyers and civil service unions.

But he has also seen more than his share of corruption and scandal in his chamber. Several Assembly members have been hit in recent years with criminal charges ranging from taking bribes to using campaign funds for personal expenses.

In 2003, Silver's then-counsel, Michael Boxley, was convicted of sexual misconduct. Nine years later, Silver handled a confidential settlement of $103,000 in public funds for two women who said they were sexually harassed by their boss, then-Assemblyman Vito Lopez of Brooklyn. After the details of the settlement went public, the Assembly speaker was criticized for his role. Silver later said the case should have been handled by the ethics committee.

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Associated Press writer David Klepper in Albany contributed to this story.


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