White-Collar Crime

Top NY lawmaker prosecuted over $3M asbestos-case referral fees exits speaker post and law firm role

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Sheldon Silver

Photo of Sheldon Silver from the New York State Assembly.

After the announcement of criminal charges that he took millions of dollars in kickbacks under the guise of legal fees in exchange for misusing his government influence, a longtime New York Democratic legislative leader is stepping down from his role as speaker and taking an unpaid leave of absence from his position as counsel to Weitz & Luxenberg.

Partner Perry Weitz said the personal injury law firm was shocked to learn of the allegations against New York Assemblyman Sheldon Silver concerning case referrals and is cooperating fully with authorities, according to the Albany Times-Union’s Capitol Confidential blog and the New York Daily News.

Weitz also emphasized in a written statement that, “As the U.S Attorney’s complaint clearly stated, we were never told that he was ever going to allocate, or had allocated, any state funding in exchange for client names he referred to us.”

Silver said in his own written statement that he appreciates his time with the firm and doesn’t want his case to be a distraction. His lawyer, Joel Cohen, previously called the charges against Silver meritless and said the lawmaker expects complete exoneration.

Among other conduct, Silver is accused of secretly directing $500,000 in state research funding to a doctor in charge of a Columbia University cancer center in exchange for the physician’s steering of lucrative asbestos-case clients to Weitz & Luxenberg, the New York Times (reg. req.) and Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) explain.

Federal prosecutors say the law firm, which is not accused of any wrongdoing, paid Silver more than $3 million for the referrals.

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “FBI arrests powerful NY politician, says he masked $4M in bribes as attorney referral fees”

See also:

New York Observer: “Law Firm at Center of Silver Scandal Donated Huge Sums to Dems”

The New Yorker: “Sheldon Silver and the Lawyers of New York”

Pro Publica: “A Sheldon Silver Mystery: Did He Betray New York Renters?”

Updated on January 30 to add Silver’s political party.

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