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Powerful NY state politician arrested on corruption charges

January 23, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) — One of New York state’s most powerful politicians was arrested Thursday on public corruption charges and accused of using his position to obtain nearly $4 million dollars in bribes and kickbacks masked as legitimate income.

The 70-year-old New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was taken into custody at about 8 a.m. (1300 GMT) at the FBI’s New York City office, FBI spokesman Peter Donald confirmed. Silver faces five counts, including conspiracy and bribery charges.

A magistrate judge in federal court in Manhattan later released the lawmaker on $200,000 bail.

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

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.”

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.”

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.

An anti-corruption commission and U.S. Attorney Preet 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.

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.

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