NY politician got $4m in bribes, kickbacks - charge

2015-01-22 20:47
(Emmanuel Dunand, AFP)

(Emmanuel Dunand, AFP)

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New York - One of New York state's most powerful politicians was arrested on Thursday on public corruption charges and accused of using his position to obtain millions of 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 08:00 at the FBI's New York City office, FBI spokesperson Peter Donald confirmed. Silver faces five counts, including conspiracy and bribery charges.

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 Governor Andrew Cuomo during his State of the State address.

In a criminal complaint, authorities said Silver abused his power and "obtained about $4m in payments characterised 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-criticised 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 on Thursday.

An anti-corruption commission and US 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 power broker 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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