New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver arrested on corruption charges
New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, speaks during a news conference in Albany, New York, in this file photo taken June 4, 2012. REUTERS/Hans Pennink/Files

New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, one of the state's most powerful Democrats for more than two decades, was charged on Thursday with fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud and other criminal counts after a lengthy corruption investigation, federal authorities said.

Silver, a lawyer whose tenure as speaker since 1994 has outlasted governors, mayors and many other politicians, has been under investigation by federal prosecutors in Manhattan and the FBI.

Silver, a political power broker who represents Manhattan's Lower East Side, is known as one of Albany's "Three Men in a Room," along with the governor and Senate Majority Leader, who negotiate the state budget and key legislation. Silver has served in the Assembly since 1977.

Silver, 70, was accused of trying to conceal "corrupt sources" of outside income and using the power of his office to obtain millions in bribes and kickbacks.

Silver allegedly received more than $6 million in unjustified income from two law firms since 2002, according to the criminal complaint.

The case appeared to accelerate after federal authorities resurrected an investigation into corruption in Albany, the state capital. The probe had been started by a commission formed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, who abruptly halted it.

After surrendering to authorities in lower Manhattan at about 8 a.m. EST, a somber-looking Silver headed to nearby federal court, wearing a dark suit and a black hat, his car mobbed by reporters and photographers.

"It is unfortunate that the prosecutors chose to pursue this as a criminal case," Silver's attorney, Steven Molo, said in an email. "We intend to vigorously contest the charges and Mr. Silver looks forward to his day in court."

If convicted, he faces a maximum of 20 years in prison on each of the charges, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said.

The arrest of Silver could spark political upheaval in Albany less than two weeks after the new legislative session opened.

Silver has long been criticized for his continued employment in one of the state's larger private law practices. Critics say it posed a conflict with legislation that would be of interest to the firm, such as medical malpractice or tort reform.

The charges pending against Silver would mark the latest case of alleged wrongdoing by state lawmakers in Albany. At least 30 politicians have faced legal or ethics charges since 2000.

(Additional reporting by Jon Stempel; Writing by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)