NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, the top Democrat in the state Legislature, was handcuffed and hauled to court Thursday on charges that he used his office to extort millions of dollars in kickbacks and bribes.
Manhattan U.S. Magistrate Judge Frank Maas released Silver, 70, on $200,000 bail Thursday afternoon following his arrest on five counts, including conspiracy and bribery charges. He was forced to surrender his passport.
If convicted, Silver could face a sentence of up to 100 years in prison.
“Over his decades in office, Speaker Silver has amassed titanic political power,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said. “But, as alleged, during that same time, Silver also amassed a tremendous personal fortune – through the abuse of that political power.”
Bharara said Silver “corruptly collected some $4 million in bribes and kickbacks disguised as ‘referral fees'” and said it accounted for “approximately two-thirds of all of Silver’s outside income since 2002.”
“As today’s charges make clear, the show-me-the-money culture of Albany has been perpetuated and promoted at the very top of the political food chain,” Bharara said. “And as the charges also show, the greedy art of secret self-reward was practiced with particular cleverness and cynicism by the Speaker himself.”
In addition, Bharara said a judge has issued warrants allowing authorities to seize $3.8 million in alleged fraud proceeds that he said Silver had dispersed among eight different bank accounts at six different banks.
As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, Silver spoke publicly Thursday afternoon among a pushing and shouting crowd of reporters.
“I’m happy the issue is coming to be aired in the legal process,” Silver said. “I am confident that when all the issues are aired I will be vindicated.”
Silver said he will not step aside to let someone else take over the legislative chamber, or resign his seat. He will continue to collect his approximately $121,000 salary as speaker.
When asked by CBS2’s Dick Brennan if he would be able to function under the cloud of allegations, Silver said, “I believe so.”
Meanwhile, 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.