Corruption Scandals Hound Ex-N.Y. Legislative Leaders

Former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver makes a comment to the media as he departs an arraignment hearing at the U.S. Federal Courthouse in the Manhattan borough of New York, April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Segar

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Two of New York’s legislative former leaders are faced with trials this month. The trials will take place this month in a Manhattan federal courthouse and it brings into the spotlight the, unfortunately, sordid side of politics. N.Y. Legislative

One of New York State’s most powerful lawmakers, former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, will go on trial this week. He is on trial for charges of using his office in collecting millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks.

Simultaneously, Dean Skelos, who is the former Senate majority leader, is facing charges of taking official actions on behalf of several companies. This was done in exchange for payments to his own son. His criminal trial commences November 16.

Silver, who is a Democrat, along with Skelos, who is a Republican, along with Governor Andrew Cuomo had almost absolute authority over everything from the state budget to legislation in Albany. Such a system in which deals are made in secrecy between the holders of these three offices has been a source of tremendous trouble for good government proponents.

Both men remain in the legislature to date. However, both men have resigned from their leadership positions. Both men have also maintained their innocence in these allegations. Silver has even repeatedly maintained that he will be vindicated during the trial.

In recent years, over 30 state lawmakers have faced corruption scandals in which they have either been indicated or forced to leave office. The trials of Skelos and Silver are the highest-profile cases in this series of corruption scandals.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has stated that New York’s statehouse has been transformed into “one of the most corrupt governments” of the country due to these allegations which are a show of a “show-me-the-money culture”.

According to Silver’s lawyers, such comments have tainted the opinions of potential jurors and have led his lawyers to motion to dismiss the indictment. However, although the comments have bothered the U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni, she has permitted the case to proceed.

Despite numerous and continued scandals, lawmakers have not considered making meaningful ethics reforms. This is according to the executive director of Common Cause of New York (the good government group), Susan Lerner.

Silver was arrested in January and faces seven counts. All of these counts are tied to two alleged schemes. N.Y. Legislative

According to prosecutors, Silver earned $3 million. This was for referring asbestos sufferers to a personal injury law firm. He himself did no legal work on the cases. These patients came from Doctor Taub who is a professor at Columbia University and who founded the mesothelioma center which is affiliated with the university. Doctor Taub has allegedly secretly received $500,000 in state money for research and this was at Silver’s instruction. Taub is expected to testify at the trial on behalf of the government. He has allegedly agreed to do so under a non-prosecution deal.

Columbia has said that it will dissolve the center as well as terminate the employment of Taub. Taub has filed a lawsuit to challenge his termination. When contacted for comment, Lisa Zornberg, a lawyer for Taub, refused to comment on Silver’s trial.

According to prosecutors, a second scheme allowed Silver to receive $700,000 in kickbacks. This was done by steering real estate developers with business to a law firm whose specialty is challenging tax assessments.

Among these real estate developers is Glenwood Management. They manage roughly 9,000 apartments within the Manhattan area. They are also well known as major campaign donors for New York politicians.

In the Skelos case, Glenwood also features prominently. Allegedly, the former Senate leader pressured Glenwood to pay his son in return for political support.

Court documents which were filed by prosecutors have shown that a subpoena which was served on Glenwood as part of the Silver probe has turned up vital evidence against Skelos.

While Glenwood has not been accused of any wrongdoing, lawyers for Glenwood, when contacted, refused to comment on the ongoing case. N.Y. Legislative

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