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Powerful Lobbyist and Pal of Sheldon Silver Is Key Witness in Bribery Case

By  Murray Weiss and James Fanelli | January 23, 2015 6:16pm | Updated on January 26, 2015 7:45am

 Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver walks towards his vehicle after his arraignment in federal court on Jan. 22, 2014.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver walks towards his vehicle after his arraignment in federal court on Jan. 22, 2014.
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DNAinfo/Lisha Arino

NEW YORK CITY — An Albany powerbroker who has been a close pal of state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver since the 1970s is a key witness in the bribery and kickback case against the lawmaker, DNAinfo New York has learned.

Brian Meara, considered one of the most powerful and top-paid lobbyists in the state, provided federal prosecutors information about Silver's ties to 100-year-old real estate titan Leonard Litwin and a law firm representing Litwin about property tax issues, according to sources and court records.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara slapped Silver on Thursday with five counts of fraud, conspiracy and other charges, accusing him of lining his pockets with $6 million in kickbacks dating back to 2000 from schemes connected to his ties to a real estate law firm and a medical malpractice law firm.

One of the schemes involved Silver receiving $700,000 from Jay Goldberg and Dara Iryami’s two-man real estate law firm, which for years paid the speaker for bringing in business from two developers, according to a criminal complaint.

The complaint doesn't name the developers and only refers to them as "Developer-1" and "Developer-2." But sources said "Developer-1" is Litwin.

Prosecutors say the law firm represented Litwin and the other developer on big property tax issues before the state — many of which Silver could influence as speaker.

However, Silver never disclosed on his financial filings as a legislator that he received money from Goldberg and Iryami’s firm, nor for a long time did he inform Litwin or the other developer that the firm compensated him.

But in late 2011, the business arrangement hit a bump when Meara learned of Silver's connection to the firm, according to the complaint and sources.

At the time, Meara was a lobbyist for Litwin’s real estate firm Glenwood Management, earning a $60,000 retainer every six months for representing Litwin’s interests before the Legislature and Silver, state lobbying records show.

According to the criminal complaint, in December 2011 Silver called to ask Meara if he was lobbying on behalf of Litwin, whose portfolio includes luxury rental apartments around the city.

When Meara said yes, Silver responded that Goldberg and Iryami’s firm paid him a share of the money they received for their work representing Litwin, according to prosecutors. He also told Meara “there was nothing to worry about” because the law firm was only representing Litwin’s holding companies, the criminal complaint says.

After the call, Meara immediately reached out to Litwin through another lobbyist because “he was concerned and surprised” that the law firm was paying Silver, the complaint says.

The following month, the business arrangement became shakier when Goldberg and Iryami realized that due to updated ethical guidelines for attorneys they needed to inform Litwin that Silver got a cut of the money that they earned from representing him as client.

As a result, Goldberg and Iryami asked Litwin to sign an updated retainer agreement acknowledging Silver’s role, but the developer initially balked, according to the complaint.

But during a meeting in Silver’s legislative office, the speaker and an unnamed lobbyist hashed out a deal that kept the business arrangement afloat, prosecutors say. They decided that Litwin would sign a primary retainer contract with the law firm that did not reference Silver’s role, according to the complaint.

However, Litwin agreed to sign a “side letter” acknowledging Silver’s arrangement with Goldberg and Iryami’s firm, the complaint says.

It's unclear if the broker in this meeting was Meara.

Meara is not named in the criminal complaint against Silver and is only referred to in the complaint as the “Lobbyist."

A footnote in the complaint states that he entered into an agreement with the feds to act as a "fact witness" and "will not be prosecuted for the conduct" described in the case.

Meara did not respond to a request for comment.

In a May 2012 article about Albany powerbrokers, The Buffalo News described how Meara and Silver became friends in the early 1970s when they both worked in the Manhattan courts. At the time, Meara was a court officer while Silver was a law secretary for a civil court judge.

Over their 40-plus-year friendship, Silver and Meara both have risen to influential positions in state politics.

Meara worked on former Gov. Mario Cuomo’s mayoral run in 1977 and has assisted members of congress in redistricting battles.

The Buffalo News story said that Meara had an office “just steps from Silver’s Capitol suite” and “is seen as a message dispatcher from Silver during key times.”

Meara’s clients include the Yankees and Big Tobacco.