Case Against NY’s Silver Rests On Shifting Anticorruption Laws


The federal graft charges against New York state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver rest on a shifting and uncertain application of anticorruption statutes, experts tell the Wall Street Journal. Silver is accused of receiving $700,000 in kickbacks after steering two real-estate developers to a law firm run by his former Assembly counsel. At least one of the developers successfully lobbied Silver to craft legislation favorable to the industry, charges the complaint. In a second purported scheme, Silver received more than $3 million in referral fees from a personal-injury law firm after encouraging a doctor to refer patients suffering from asbestos-related cancer to the firm. Silver directed $500,000 in state funds toward the doctor's research, prosecutors said.

Silver denied wrongdoing, Defense attorneys and former prosecutors described the complaint as a sound application of the Hobbs Act, a federal statute for extortion committed by public officials, and the so-called honest services statute, one of several federal laws used to prosecute corruption on the state level. Dan Gelber, a defense lawyer in Miami and a former federal prosecutor, said the allegations are “within the heartland of what the honest-services statute is now intended to be used for.” Still, the alleged quid pro quo arrangements in Silver's case are murky in places, and defense lawyers successfully have challenged “honest services” charges in recent cases.

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