NEW YORK—U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara blamed the top echelon of Albany politicians for perpetuating a culture of corruption in New York politics, one that resulted in Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s arrest on Thursday.
During a breakfast event Friday at New York Law School, Bharara pointed to the faulty set-up of “three men in a room” that Silver, who has been charged for corruption, was a part of.
The speaker faces 100 years in prison for mail and wire fraud and extortion. And others could easily follow in his footsteps “particularly when that message is coming from the top” of doing the bare minimum to stay out of trouble with the law, said Bharara.
The “three men in a room”—Silver, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos—essentially held all the power in Albany. The structure dissuades honest people from becoming politicians, said the attorney.
“Good people don’t waste their time that way. You won’t bother if you know you won’t be one of the three,” he said.
Bharara questioned what the three men did in the room, and why the government maintained such an archaic way of doing things.
He joked in a deadpan voice, “Why three men? Can there be a woman? Do they always have to be white? How small is the room that they can only fit three men? Is it three men in a closet?”
He said that the three men, wielding all the power, didn’t have to tolerate dissent, change, or reform.
“Is that really how government should be run?” asked Bharara. “When did 20 million New Yorkers agree to be ruled by a triumvirate like in Roman times?”
In response to the “cauldron of corruption” in Albany, Bharara, whose office is in the Southern District of New York, is delivering a series of tough prosecutions, he said.
Although Silver has been the biggest politician Bharara has gone after, the attorney has also nabbed former Council member Dan Halloran and former State Sen. Malcolm Smith for corruption in 2013.
He is also investigating Cuomo’s alleged interference with the anti-corruption Moreland Commission the governor created in 2013 and shut down early last year.
But to effect real reform, in addition to his prosecution work, the public should get angry about the state of New York politics, he said.
“At the end of day, if yesterday’s charges are proven true,” said Bharara, “and at least one of the proverbial three men in a room is deeply compromised, how can we trust that anything that gets decided in Albany?”