Silver’s arrest, the Moreland Commission and our state lawmakers

East End lawmakers Sheldon Silver arrest

In the aftermath of the arrest of one of New York State’s most powerful lawmakers, some local legislators are calling for change while others are remaining silent. 

Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) is set to resign as Assembly speaker Monday following his arrest last week on federal corruption charges alleging he received $4 million in kickbacks and bribes for referrals made to law firms he was associated with. He will remain in office.

State Republicans, including local Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), called for Mr. Silver’s resignation from his leadership position immediately following his arrest, though his resignation was not announced for five days.

“Sheldon Silver’s personal problems cannot distract us from our task at hand, which is to enact a budget by April 1,” Mr. Palumbo said in a statement. “As it stands now, we don’t even have committee chairs selected and without committees, we cannot get a bill to the floor for a vote.”

Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), who caucuses with the Democrats, said on the day of Mr. Silver’s arrest that the decision to resign needed to come from Mr. Silver himself, who has held the Assembly speaker position since 1994. The speaker is one of three leaders in Albany — along with the state Senate majority leader and the governor — who, on an annual basis, meet behind closed doors and agree to the final terms of the state’s budget.

Mr. Thiele said that with no criminal indictment and no action yet from a grand jury, “the presumption of innocence as provided by the Constitution should be honored.”

“I am mindful that Perry Duryea, my predecessor, was indicted in 1974, when he was speaker, for conspiracy to commit election fraud,” Mr. Thiele wrote in an email. “Ultimately, the case was thrown out. Mr. Duryea stayed on as speaker and served the East End honorably for years to come.”

Prosecutors said some of the information that led to Mr. Silver’s arrest stemmed from the work of the defunct anti-corruption Moreland Commission, which was established by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The commission had been examining outside income earned by state legislators, according to the preliminary report it issued in December 2013.

The Moreland Commission was shut down by the governor around the same time Mr. Silver and other state lawmakers joined together with more than a dozen law firms to file a motion attempting to block subpoenas issued by the commission.

The subpoenas sought information on outside income earned by lawmakers after the commission received little response from letters asking lawmakers to voluntarily detail how their income was earned. The letters were sent to 65 lawmakers who reported earning more than $20,000 in outside income in financial disclosure forms filed with the state in 2013.

Mr. Thiele said he was one “one of the few” legislators to comply with the Moreland Commission’s request.

“I gave them all the information that they requested regarding outside employment and income,” he said in an email Monday.

He said that information included employment agreements, income earned and a client list.

A review of the financial disclosure forms for the year requested by the commission shows local state Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) also reported earning more than $20,000 in outside income. His office did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story. He has also not issued a public statement in the aftermath of Mr. Silver’s arrest.

Mr. LaValle and Mr. Thiele are both employed by Twomey, Latham, Shea, Kelley, Dubin & Quartararo of Riverhead, Suffolk County’s largest law office and one of 16 firms listed in the April 2014 motion to block subpoenas issued by the Moreland Commission.

Each of the surviving named partners in the firm — founding partner Tom Twomey died last year — also did not respond to a request for comment.

Financial disclosure forms filed with the state only detail a range of income earned by legislators. Mr. Thiele’s form shows he earned between $50,000 and $80,000 in outside income in 2012, mostly through his work as the Sag Harbor Village attorney.

Mr. LaValle’s form shows he earned between $75,000 and $100,000 from Twomey, Latham, Shea, Kelley, Dubin & Quartararo.

While Mr. Palumbo did report more than $500,000 in outside income earned by he and his wife — with whom he shares a law practice — in his only financial disclosure form filed in 2014, he was not yet in office for the years examined by the Moreland Commission. The North Fork had no representative in the Assembly for much of 2013 after former assemblyman Dan Losquadro was elected Brookhaven Town highway superintendent.

A former political opponent of Mr. LaValle’s, Regina Calcaterra of New Suffolk, served as the executive director of the Moreland Commission. Reached by telephone following Mr. Silver’s arrest, she stood by the work of the commission, but declined to speak to  its findings and the role it might have played in the federal investigation.

Mr. Thiele said he supported the work of the Moreland Commission and believes “it was a mistake to disband it.”

“I have no problem with complete transparency on outside income and would vote to make it the law if we ever get the chance,” he said. “I suspect we will now.”

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