NY Assembly Speaker Arrested on Corruption Charges

Sheldon Silver, the Assembly Speaker of New York State and a Democrat from lower Manhattan, has been arrested on federal charges of bribery and corruption. This arrest comes after a lengthy investigation into his finances. Silver, a lawyer who has been Assembly speaker since 1994, surrendered before 8AM this morning at 26 Federal Plaza near City Hall in Manhattan.

There is a five-count criminal complaint that has been brought against him, with charges such as a scheme to defraud, depriving the public of honest services, extortion and mail fraud. It includes allegations that Silver has received over $6 million in outside income from two law firms since the early 2000s.

Photo by GFPeck; from Flickr.com
Photo by GFPeck; from Flickr.com

In the past several years other New York State politicians have been charged with corruption, and the public has become rather cynical about the honesty of state politics and its ties to various business interests. Other disgraced NY politicians include former Majority Leader Joe Bruno, a Republican, who was brought up on fraud charges but cleared. Going back to the 1800s, the infamous William “Boss” Tweed of New York City was a poster boy for political graft and corruption. He was often skewered in cartoons drawn by Thomas Nast.

Governor Andrew Cuomo had created a a special anti-corruption panel, the Moreland Commission, to look into wrongdoing. But several months ago the Governor disbanded the commission and the public was curious as to why.

Silver has been a powerful politician and general presence in New York State and New York City for years, and his arrest has been the talk of the radio news shows here. The state’s Republican party has made a statement asking Silver to resign, and apparently some Democrats have also requested this.

Among the specified parties involved in Silver’s case is the Manhattan law firm Weitz & Luxenberg, a personal-injury firm that has given Silver over $5 million, even though he did no official work for them.

“Shelly”, as he is often called, also had a close friendship with a leader of the non-profit group Met Council, former chairman William Rapfogel, who is now jailed on fraud charges.

I had attended a meeting at Brooklyn Borough Hall this morning and after it broke up, some members were talking somberly about Silver’s situation. One man said woefully, “This was not unexpected.” No doubt this case will be a major topic of discussion in New York and throughout the United States. Is the public shocked? Do most care? Or are many skeptical already about the doings of state politicians? We shall see. Silver has already stated “I hope I’ll be vindicated.”

He was released on bail in the early afternoon.


Ellen Levitt is the author of The Lost Synagogues of Brooklyn (2009), The Lost Synagogues of the Bronx and Queens (2011) and The Lost Synagogues of Manhattan (2013), all published by Avotaynu. She is a lifelong New Yorker, a veteran public school teacher, writer and photographer. Bird lover as well.