Richard Runes, a lobbyist for Glenwood Management and key witness in the corruption trial of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, testified that he and his employer felt trapped when they realized the company was unwittingly paying the power lawmaker a secret retainer fee.
“[W]hen Runes found out Silver was personally profiting — to the tune of some $750,000 — from real estate tax work . . . [he] went to the boss of Glenwood Management and other top brass to tell them,” the New York Post reported. “They were equally upset. But no one could figure out how to get away from Silver.”
Runes, a lawyer, testified Monday during the third week of the federal corruption trial against Silver, in which U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara accused the Lower East Side lawmaker of receiving kickbacks for steering real estate clients to the tax certiorari law firm of Goldberg & Iryami.
Silver’s attorneys have argued the payments were perfectly legal referral fees and deny any quid-pro quo.
According to Runes’ testimony, once Glenwood discovered Goldberg & Iryami was making payments to the powerful Democratic politician, company CEO Leonard Litwin personally made the decision to remove Silver’s name from a public document that would have disclosed the fee-sharing arrangement, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Litwin did, however, agree to sign a private letter acknowledging the payments to Silver because, Runes testified, the company feared retribution from the Albany powerbroker, who allegedly greased the government wheels for Glenwood, resulting in profits.
It was like “holding a tiger by the tail,” Runes told Assistant U.S. Attorney Howard Master during pretrial conversations. “If you hold a tiger by the tail, you have a difficult choice to make: Do you let it go, or not?”
Runes’ testimony is significant because Litwin, who is 101 years old, is not expected to take the stand.
Litwin, whose company owns more than two dozen buildings with over 8,500 apartments in the city, had been the largest political contributor in the state. In 2015, following Silver’s arrest, his donations all but dried up. [NYP, WSJ] – Rich Bockmann