Assembly Speaker Melvin Miller and a top aide could go to trial on 19 counts of mail fraud and related charges in three to six months, during the heart of next year's legislative session.
The Brooklyn Democrat and his former law partner, Jay Adolf, were indicted Tuesday on charges they collected more than $300,000 between 1984 and 1986 by defrauding their own clients in three different schemes involving New York City apartment sales.
In one case, the indictment charges, they filed a false affidavit to make it appear that one of their clients, who had died, had turned over her interest in a Brooklyn apartment to a fellow schemer, who was not indicted.
"They were using their position as attorneys to take advantage of their clients for a profit," said U.S. Attorney Andrew Maloney of Brooklyn.
The indictment came as no surprise since Miller announced Monday night that he expected the charges and that he was innocent.
Miller claims the indictment stems from Maloney's previous investigations of Miller, which did not result in any charges. He also charges that Maloney and his assistants pressured people, including Adolf, to testify against him and won the cooperation of an "admitted liar and forger."
"I have never defrauded anyone in my life," Miller said. "In essence, these baseless and outrageous charges represent a view that says don't let the facts get in the way of a high-profile trial."
Maloney denied any political motivation for the indictment and said its timing "was more for Mr. Miller's benefit," coming near the end of long state budget talks.
Miller and Adolf face five years in prison and fines of $250,000 each if they are convicted. In addition, if convicted of a felony, Miller would lose his seat as a legislator, and both he and Adolf could lose their licenses to practice law.
Miller, who will be arraigned next week, said he will not resign while the charges are pending.
Gov. Cuomo, a Democrat, expressed support of the Democratic legislative leader, saying his "long experience with Mel Miller would create in his favor a powerful presumption of innocence . . ."
Each of the alleged schemes involved the sale of apartments by clients of Miller and Adolf in two New York City buildings.
In the first case, Miller and Adolf represented a group of investors who were purchasing apartments in a Brooklyn building, Maloney said. Miller, Adolf and their unindicted co-conspirators secretly diverted "eight valuable apartments" from the group of apartments they negotiated to purchase for their clients, the indictment charges.
To conceal their ownership of the eight apartments, Miller and Adolf placed the ownership in the name of a Canadian resident who was paid $5,000 to use her name, according to the indictment. Miller and Adolf secretly sold the apartment six months later at approximately double the purchase price, according to the charges.
The indictment also accuses Miller, Adolf and others of fraudulently acquiring the apartment of a deceased former client in the same building by preparing a false affidavit a month after the woman died that made it appear that she had signed the apartment over to an unindicted co-conspirator, the indictment charges.
The document allegedly allowed Miller and Adolf to purchase the building at a lower price and sell it for three times that price six months later, the indictment charges.
The final scheme involved an elderly woman who owned the rights to an apartment on the fashionable East Side of Manhattan, Maloney said. Adolf and Miller allegedly convinced the woman to sell those rights to someone who secretly agreed to share profits with Miller and Adolf, Maloney claims.
While some lawyers say privately that Miller may be guilty of ethical -- not criminal -- violations, others say he is in serious trouble if the criminal charges are proven.
"The prosecution's case is clearly based on claims by an admitted liar and forger who made a deal to save himself in exchange for trying to get the scalp of a high-public official," Miller said.
That person has not been named by Miller or Maloney.