Sheldon Silver's Arrest: Law Firm Referrals Part of Alleged Scheme

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on January 23, 2015 9:01 AM

Ah, good old (alleged) bribery. When lawyers behave badly and someone gets hurt or killed, we kind of feel bad about it. But when lawyers get arrested for bribery? No one gets hurt, and we can bask in the awesomeness.

New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver found himself on the pointy end of the law after he surrendered to the FBI Thursday morning, accused of using his office to get bribes and kickbacks. What's the legal angle? Turns out a lot of his wheel-greasing money was funneled through a law firm for legal services that, mysteriously, were never rendered.

And I Woulda Got Away With It, Too

The feds are everywhere these days; you can't just ask for money in a paper bag anymore. They've got bugs on your phone, bugs in your house, bugs on your friends. Haven't you seen "Homeland"??

The savvy bribee knows that money laundering is where it's at. According to the indictment, Silver claimed to be a lawyer for a personal injury firm called Weitz & Luxenberg. The story seemed to hold up: His financial disclosures showed that he received $650,000 from the firm in 2013. Prosecutors, however, couldn't find any record of Silver appearing in court and there were no records at the law firm of him ever working on a case. (Scratch that: He did work on one case, but he did it for free.)

All the Fraud

According to prosecutors, Silver directed $500,000 in state research grants to a Dr. Robert Taub who would, in turn, appear to refer victims of asbestos-caused mesothelioma to Silver, who would then refer them to Weitz & Luxenberg. In return, the firm allegedly paid Silver almost $4 million for the referrals and $1.4 million as a "salary" for legal work he never performed. The New York Times questioned several of the people Silver purported to refer to the law firm. They said they'd never contacted Silver for legal work, nor had they been contacted by him. Curiouser and curiouser.

In another alleged scheme -- because the smart bribee diversifies -- prosecutors say Silver would persuade real estate developers to use a real estate law firm run by a former aide. The real estate firm would then "pay" Silver for the referrals. (All of these verbs are in facetious-quotes because prosecutors think all of these referral payments were shams.)

For his alleged scheming, Silver got hit with charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, and extortion, along with conspiracy to commit extortion and mail fraud. According to The Wall Street Journal, Silver's lawyers vowed to fight the charges and said their client "looks forward to ... his full exoneration."

Silver is just the latest in a litany of New York legislators to get hit with bribery and corruption charges. Come on, Illinois; you've got a reputation to maintain!

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