The Slatest

Sheldon Silver Cited 9/11 as Official Justification for Spending in Alleged Kickback Scheme

Silver arriving in court this morning.

Stephanie Keih/Reuters

United States Attorney Preet Bharara has accused powerful New York City politician Sheldon Silver, the speaker of the New York State Assembly, of taking millions of dollars in kickbacks via legal fees that he didn’t actually do any work to earn.* The complete criminal complaint against Silver makes for a compelling short story about the elaborate methods of (alleged) modern corruption, and the accusations against Silver are bad news for ambitious New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for reasons explained here. But let’s focus on one particularly egregious incident described in the complaint, in which Silver cited 9/11 as the impetus for government spending that was (allegedly) in fact disbursed because the doctor who received the funding was part of the process by which Silver received bogus legal fees.

Here are the steps in the alleged scam, which is one of two unrelated corruption schemes that Silver is accused of profiting from.

1) A New York doctor referred patients with the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma to the law firm of Weitz & Lutzenberg, which conducts asbestos-related litigation.

2) Weitz & Lutzenberg paid a salary to Silver, and paid him hundreds of thousands of dollars more in referral fees, for each of the asbestos-related clients referred by the New York doctor—even though Silver actually had no interactions with the patient/clients and has no experience in asbestos litigation.

3) Silver funneled $500,000 in discretionary spending from the New York health budget to the doctor’s mesothelioma research organization. (There doesn’t appear to be any suggestion that the money was used improperly after it was received by the research organization.)

Silver’s letters directing disbursement of the $500,000 to the doctor’s research organization didn’t mention his lucrative personal financial relationship with the doctor. But they did cite 9/11.

Screen shot/Failed Messiah

The criminal complaint states that Silver in fact “never asked [the doctor] how the state funds he had directed to the Mesothelioma Center had actually been used.”

*Correction, Jan. 22, 2015: This post originally misstated that Sheldon Silver is the chairman of the New York State Assembly. He is the speaker.