By Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A grand jury indicted Sheldon Silver, the former New York State Assembly speaker and one of the state’s most powerful politicians for two decades, on federal corruption charges on Thursday, federal prosecutors said.
Silver, who resigned as speaker after his arrest last month but remains the assemblyman for Manhattan’s Lower East Side, was indicted on one count of honest services mail fraud, one count of honest services wire fraud and one count of using his office for extortion.
Silver’s lawyers said in a statement on Thursday he was not guilty.
“We can now begin to fight for his total vindication,” Joel Cohen and Steven Molo, Silver’s lawyers, said in a statement. “We intend to do that fighting where it should be done: in court.”
The office of Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, originally charged Silver with five counts relating to bribery and kickback schemes on Jan. 22. It was not immediately clear why two of the counts, both of them conspiracy charges, appear to have been dropped.
A spokeswoman for Bharara did not respond to a request for comment.
The indictment returned on Thursday did not appear to contain new information about the schemes Silver is accused of running.
As speaker, Silver, 71, was generally considered one of the three most powerful political figures in the state, along with the governor and the majority leader of the state’s Senate, who among them controlled the budget and lawmaking processes.
Silver, a lawyer who became speaker in 1994, had long listed New York personal injury firm Weitz & Luxenberg on his financial disclosure forms as a source of income for representing its clients in cases.
The indictment said he used that position to mask bribes and kickbacks, including more than $3 million earned for referring asbestos sufferers to the firm from a doctor whose medical research had secretly received $500,000 in state funds at Silver’s direction, as well as other benefits.
Silver kept secret from Weitz & Luxenberg the state funding he had organized for the doctor, the indictment said.
Prosecutors said Silver also received $700,000 in kickbacks by steering real estate developers with business before the Legislature to another law firm, identified by its defense lawyer as Goldberg & Iryami.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Frank McGurty and Peter Cooney)