The State of New York is aghast and perplexed. The second or third most powerful political leader in the State has been accused of corruption and accepting kickbacks valued at perhaps $4 million. Can this be accurate?
There Sheldon Silver was on Thursday, the speaker of the New York State Assembly, being driven away by U.S. FBI agents, wearing his black hat. It immediately reminded me of Jack Abramoff, also wearing a large black hat, being driven away by federal agents several years ago.
For two decades, Sheldon Silver, 70, has been one of the “three men in a room.” This is the term used in NY State for the three men who make the state decisions (the governor, the speaker, and the head of the senate). The actual voting and debating is somewhat of an afterthought, usually just a rubber-stamping process. Some are shocked that Silver might be corrupt. Sure he makes over four times his government salary as an attorney at a firm where he doesn’t really do much work. Sure he got paid for legal referral fees, but so much? Yes, his Chief of Staff – Ms. Rapfogel – was discovered to have hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in a closet in her house, but it was most likely her husband’s ill gotten kickbacks. Yes, Silver allegedly got payments that he did not disclose for a decade from Goldberg & Iryami – a law firm – but that was probably on the up and up (or was he on paid retainer by a real estate developer). Goldberg’s firm represents the grand Street co-op apatrments, where Silver and Mr. Rapfogel were raised. Corrupt? No way. Or maybe since he was so good for New York City and his Lower East Side district, that people kept quiet.
Last year, Governor Cuomo’s Moreland Commission was investigating corruption in Albany, but the governor shut it down in a deal with…. Sheldon Silver. The federal government picked up where the Moreland Commission left off.
Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of NY, wrote that “There is probable cause to believe that Silver obtained approximately $4 million in payments characterized as attorney referral fees soley through the corrupt use of his official position… Over his decades in office, Speaker Silver has amassed titanic political power. But, as alleged, during that same time, Silver also amassed a tremendous personal fortune – through the abuse of that political power.”
He also stands accused of trading $500,000 in taxpayer money for more than $3?million in private payments. Silver allegedly used a state slush fund and gave it to a physician who referred asbestos cases to a law firm which then illegally split its share of medical settlements with Silver.
I am reminded of a poem by the late Shel… Silverstein
“She hasn’t slept in quite some time–
Just see her eyelids flap.
She’s tired drowsy — cranky too,
‘Cause guess who took her nap?”
The jury cried, “You’re guilty, yes,
You’re guilty as can be,
But just return the nap took
And we might set you free.”
“I did not take that nap,” I cried,
“I give my solemn vow,
And if I took it by mistake
I do not have it now.”
“Oh fiddle-fudge,” cried out the judge,
Your record looks quite sour.
Last night I see you stole a kiss,
Last week you took a shower,