NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver asked a judge on Thursday to toss out criminal charges against him, saying a federal prosecutor stretched the law too far to try to make a case.

“This prosecution is a theory in search of a crime,” defense attorneys wrote at the opening of written arguments aimed at wiping out charges that led Democrat Sheldon Silver to step down from his leadership post.

Attorneys for Silver said in the Manhattan U.S. District Court filing that an indictment “blatantly disregards” U.S. Supreme Court rulings that limit when prosecutors can label conflicts of interest or self-dealing as bribes and kickbacks.

Prosecutors say Silver took nearly $4 million in payoffs and kickbacks before he was arrested in January in the bribery case. Free on bail, he faces charges of honest services mail fraud, honest services wire fraud and extortion.

A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara declined to comment. Earlier in the week, prosecutors filed papers seeking to seize millions of dollars in assets held by Silver.

In seeking to have the charges dismissed, Silver’s lawyers said the government had ignored that New York state throughout its history has let state lawmakers pursue private part-time employment.

“At bottom, what the government objects to in this case is not actual federal crimes but rather longstanding features of New York state government that the U.S. attorney finds distasteful,” they wrote.

When Silver was arrested, Bharara said that Silver, a lawyer, had 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 prosecutor said the money was disguised as “referral fees.”

Bharara later said saying the motion by Silver’s attorneys to toss the case was without merit.

In a brief signed by four prosecutors, Bharara’s office said Silver’s claims had no basis in facts or the law and it defended the announcement of Silver’s Jan. 22 arrest and remarks Bharara made a day later in a law school speech when he joked repeatedly that power in New York State was “unduly concentrated in the hands of just a few men” — the governor, the Assembly speaker and the Senate president.

Silver has pleaded not guilty and said he is confident he’ll be vindicated.

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.

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