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Silver Pleads Not Guilty to Corruption Charges

MANHATTAN (CN) - Moments after their client pleaded not guilty to corruption charges Tuesday, attorneys for New York Assemblyman Sheldon Silver lashed out at two targets: the district's top federal prosecutor and the press.

Silver, who kept his seat after his Jan. 21 arrest but ended his 21-year run as speaker, is accused of accepting millions in bribes and kickbacks, and disguising those funds as legitimate income from asbestos litigation and real-estate referrals from a private-law practice.

Since late 2002, two law firms paid Silver more than $6 million, including $5.3 million from Weitz & Luxenberg alone, the criminal complaint against him states.

The 70-year-old Silver offered only a terse statement to reporters after the arraignment.

"I am confident I will be vindicated in the courtroom," he said.

A Feb. 19 indictment against Silver - alleging honest services mail fraud, honest services wire fraud and extortion - is the highest profile of a spate of corruption cases brought by Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

At the brief hearing Tuesday, Silver's MoloLamken attorney Steven Molo entered a not-guilty plea on all of those counts before condemning the "improper extrajudicial statements" Bharara made after the assemblyman's arrest.

Before Silver's criminal complaint was ever unsealed, press leaks caused "what can be called nothing less than a media firestorm," Molo said.

The New York Times and other outlets started reporting the allegations at 1:30 a.m. on Jan. 22, hours before Bharara spoke about them at a press conference, he added.

The next day, Bharara cracked a "twisted joke" at a breakfast at New York Law School," according to a defense legal brief filed hours before the hearing.

"I see some public officials here," Bharara is quoted as saying. "And after yesterday I guess I have two theories as to why that might be. One is that you knew that I would be taking attendance and the other is there are a lot of folks now looking for immunity."

Bharara continued to "excoriate" Silver two weeks later on MSNBC on Feb. 10, Molo told the court.

Since the grand jury did not indict Silver for another week, Molo said "there was no purpose [for Bharara's remarks] but to prejudice the grand jury and the jury that will hear this case."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Cohen said there was "absolutely nothing unusual" about Bharara's remarks.

"There was certainly no prejudice in the grand jury proceeding," Cohen emphasized.

U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni gave the government until March 6 to answer Silver's motion to dismiss based on pretrial prejudice.

If unsuccessful, Silver's lawyers will have another attempt to dismiss the indictment on other grounds on April 3.

Prosecutor Cohen anticipated that, if the case goes to trial, the government will call up to 25 witnesses and present evidence for roughly three weeks.

A defense case will last roughly one week longer, Molo estimated.

After the hearing, Molo kept his remarks for reporters brief.

"Speaker Silver pleaded not guilty because he is not guilty," Molo said, using the assemblyman's former title.

A status conference is scheduled for May 7.

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