New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver may have violated state ethics laws by not disclosing his work for a law firm whose relationship with the lawmaker is said to be the subject of a federal investigation.
The 70-year-old Democrat from Manhattan’s Lower East Side, who has led the lower house in Albany for two decades, is being probed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan and the FBI for payments made to him by a law firm that specializes in tax appeals, the New York Times reported last night, citing unidentified persons.
The newspaper identified the firm as Goldberg & Iryami P.C. of New York City, which doesn’t appear on disclosure forms Silver is required to file with a state ethics panel.
“The law is pretty clear,” said Blair Horner, the legislative director for New York Public Interest Research Group, a government watchdog organization. “The speaker either made a big mistake or he’s consciously hiding his relationship with the firm. Either way, it would be a violation.”
Michael Whyland, a spokesman for Silver, declined to comment. Neither Jay Arthur Goldberg nor Dara Iryami, the two attorneys at the firm said to be tied to Silver, returned telephone calls seeking comment.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has been probing members of the legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration since March, when Cuomo shut down an anti-corruption panel known as a Moreland Commission. Top aides to Cuomo tried to stop the panel from investigating the governor’s campaign and his backers in the real estate industry. Cuomo, who created the commission in July 2013, said he ended it because lawmakers had agreed to new ethics rules.
Jim Margolin, a spokesman for Bharara, didn’t immediately return an e-mail and phone message seeking comment on the Silver investigation. Peter Donald, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in New York, declined to comment.
After it was disbanded, the commission turned over its work to Bharara. Among its targets were the outside jobs held by lawmakers. Silver, who makes $121,000 annually as speaker, earned at least $650,000 last year as an attorney with the personal-injury firm Weitz & Luxenberg, according to his financial-disclosure filings.
That firm has long-been on the speaker’s filings and was among about a half-dozen subpoenaed by the Moreland Commission last year, according to court filings. The panel was seeking records of clients, and the law firms collectively moved to quash them, filings show. The cases were dropped after Cuomo disbanded the commission.
This isn’t the first time Silver has been scrutinized in public. Questions about his handling of sexual-assault accusations against a former top aide have followed him since the allegations were made in 2001 and 2003. Last year, he was criticized for protecting a Brooklyn assemblyman accused of sexual harassment.
The Times said Silver has been the focus of previous federal investigations, none of which resulted in charges.
Failing to disclose outside work may be the most serious charge Silver has faced, said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, a group that fights for greater transparency in the capital.
“It’s cut and dried whether or not he disclosed this income,” Kaehny said.
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