ALBANY - As expected, a grand jury has indicted former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on federal corruption charges, U. S. Attorney Preet Bharara announced Thursday.
The formal indictment came four weeks after Bharara released a criminal complaint against Silver, charging him with conspiracy and extortion.
Notably, the indictment released Thursday charged Silver on just three counts -- wire fraud, mail fraud and extortion - instead of five, as under the original complaint issued in January. Bharara dropped two conspiracy charges.
Each count carries a maximum 20-year sentence. Bharara faced a Monday deadline for filing a formal indictment against Silver.
The indictment alleged Silver – one of the most powerful men in New York politics for the last 21 years -- steered real estate legislation and funneled state medical research funds in return for $4 million in illegal kickbacks.
Silver, 71, has pleaded not guilty and has said he will be “vindicated.” On Thursday, Silver's attorney denied the charges.
"Our client is not guilty," attorney Joel Cohen said. "We can now begin to fight for his total vindication. We will do our fighting where it should be done: in court."
Bharara and FBI officials have said that for more than a decade Silver, a lawyer, received kickbacks disguised as “attorney referral fees” through a string of schemes that hinged on his power as one of the three most influential men in state government. Bharara said Silver “amassed a tremendous personal fortune” through the “abuse” of office.
He led the Democrat-dominated Assembly from 1994 until Feb. 2 when he resigned as Speaker after being forced by his colleagues. Silver has retained his Assembly seat. He has taken a leave from his law firm, Weitz and Luxenberg of Manhattan.
Prosecutors have said one scheme allegedly involved getting a doctor to refer asbestos patients to Weitz and Luxenberg. Silver allegedly received $3.3 million in referral fees and, in exchange, used a health care slush fund he controlled to direct $500,000 to the doctor’s research hospital. Prosecutors said Silver "kept secret" from Weitz and Luxenberg that he had steered funding to the doctor's research program.
The second scheme alleged Silver worked to “induce real estate developers with business before the state” to use a real estate firm with ties to the speaker to challenge property-tax assessments. Silver pocketed $628,132 in referral fees and later helped landlords win favorable legislation, even though he’s widely regarded as a tenants’ advocate, Bharara said in January.
With John Riley