A few more details regarding yesterday’s indictment of Sheldon Silver by a federal grand jury. The Lower East Side assemblyman and former speaker faces mail fraud, wire fraud and extortion charges in connection with an alleged scheme to illegally collect $4 million in bribes and kickbacks. He will be arraigned in federal court Tuesday afternoon.
The 25-page indictment is very similar to the criminal complaint filed by the the U.S. Attorney at the time of Silver’s arrest Jan. 22. But there are some differences. In the document made public yesterday, the feds moved to seize Silver’s state pension, several bank accounts and his homes.
Those homes include a property in the Catskills, as well as adjacent apartments (units G5-A and G5-B) in the Hillman Cooperative at 550 Grand St. A legal expert interviewed by the Daily News suggested that the tactic is at least somewhat unusual in this type of case:
“I don’t think you see asset forfeiture of this scale in a case involving a government official charged with mail fraud,” said Pace University Law Prof. Bennett Gershman, a former prosecutor. “Typically, you see asset forfeiture in drug or money laundering cases,” added Gershman, noting that prosecutors will need to show that Silver somehow used dirty money to acquire or maintain the homes. Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, despite provisions in the state constitution that protect lawmakers’ pensions, has repeatedly in recent years sought to use federal forfeiture laws to seize the funds from crooked politicians.
Prosecutors chose to drop two conspiracy charges that were included in the original complaint. In another Daily News piece, one prominent defense attorney argued that the move suggests the federal case against Silver is weaker than it first appeared:
Albany Attorney E. Stewart Jones, who successfully defended former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno against federal corruption charges, sees good news in the indictment for Silver. “I think it is a significant development that they have dropped the conspiracy charges,” Jones said. “A conspiracy charge would have significantly broadened the evidentiary proof available to prosecutors. Statements from co-conspirators that otherwise would have been considered hearsay would have been admissible in a conspiracy case.” Witnesses, Jones said, will now have to provide direct testimony about what they saw or heard Silver do. “It tightens up the proof requirements,” he said. “It is beneficial to Silver.” Jones said the lack of the conspiracy counts suggests the case is weaker than prosecutors initially thought. “Clearly, whatever they thought they had about a conspiracy charge and about those involved in it must have evaporated,” Jones said.
Another expert, a former federal prosecutor, disagreed, saying the case remains strong.