Prominent but suspended medical malpractice attorney Stephen L. Snyder urged a federal judge Tuesday to dismiss his indictment for attempted extortion, saying investigators blocked what would have been an exonerating meeting with the allegedly victimized University of Maryland Medical System’s representatives and selectively edited his potentially damning and recorded conversation with UMMS leaders.
Snyder’s eight-count indictment alleges he demanded that UMMS pay him $25 million or he would go public with allegations of irregularities in the health care facility’s handling of organ transplant surgeries.
In his motion for dismissal, Snyder claims federal investigators advised UMMS representatives to reject his request that they meet with his personal attorney, Andrew Jay Graham, regarding the $25 million request to assure them the money was being sought in good faith and not as extortion.
“The government agents, through their eavesdropping, knew just how much Snyder wanted UMMS to meet with Graham,” Snyder’s defense attorneys, Arnold M. Weiner and Stuart A. Cherry, wrote in the motion filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. “Any opinion that Mr. Graham would give to the participants at the meeting would exonerate Snyder.”
“If Graham believed that Snyder’s proposal was proper, the expression of that opinion would corroborate Snyder’s good faith belief,” added Weiner and Cherry of Rifkin Weiner Livingston LLC in Baltimore. “If Graham, after meeting with UMMS, believed that Snyder’s proposal was not proper, Snyder had already said he would abandon the proposal and put an end to the discussions. Acutely aware of the significance of a UMMS/Graham meeting, the government agents took steps to assure that such a meeting would not occur.”
Snyder also alleges the investigators spliced surreptitiously recorded conversations between him and UMMS representatives so that his responses to their comments would sound damning when it fact his answers had actually been in response to their other inquiries.
“Astonishingly, the government has gone far beyond any arguably proper omission of exculpatory statements to create the fictitious narrative,” Weiner and Cherry wrote.
“Here, the government has corrupted the indictment by quoting statements or questions by UMMS representatives and following those statements with comments from Snyder, which it falsely presents as answers to those statements or questions,” Weiner and Cherry added. “In actuality, and in each instance, Snyder’s comments were made in response to altogether different statements by UMMS representatives, and, when put back into proper sequence, are entirely innocent.”
The U.S. attorney’s office for Maryland declined to comment on the motion to dismiss, stating that its response would be made in court. The case is pending before U.S. District Judge George L. Russell III.
The indictment alleges that Snyder told UMMS leaders that he would mount a public smear campaign — including a press conference, meeting with national news organizations, internet advertisements and two videos for television — if they did not pay him his requested $25 million “consulting” fee.
The grand jury indictment, announced last October by then-Maryland U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur, also includes seven counts of having “traveled in interstate commerce and used a facility in interstate commerce” to carry on unlawful activity in violation of the federal Travel Act.
If convicted on all charges, Snyder would face up to 20 years in prison for attempted extortion and for each violation of the Travel Act. However, “actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties,” the U.S. attorney’s office stated.
Snyder’s alleged attempt at extortion occurred during settlement talks with UMMS on behalf of one of his clients, a woman whose husband died allegedly from a botched transplant at the University of Maryland Medical Center, a hospital within the system.
During those discussions in 2018, Snyder initially demanded $25 million for the widow but later changed his request to $5 million for the client and $25 million for himself as a UMMS consultant, according to the indictment. Asked by system representatives what services he would provide, Snyder allegedly responded that he could be “a janitor.”
At the settlement sessions, Snyder allegedly coupled his request for the $25 million consultancy with threats of public exposure of his allegations, according to the indictment.
He allegedly played for UMMS representatives his two self-produced videos: one in which he claimed UMMS did not tell patients that organs being transplanted were bad or had been rejected by other transplant facility, and another that alleged doctors had left UMMS or been demoted and no longer performed surgery, the indictment stated.
The federal attempted extortion allegation mirrors claims of ethical violations that Maryland Bar Counsel Lydia E. Lawless has lodged against Snyder. The ethics proceeding has been stayed pending resolution of the criminal case.
However, Snyder has agreed with Lawless to the suspension of his law license pending resolution of the criminal and ethical allegations. Snyder’s suspension went into effect March 31.
Snyder, who has practiced law for 50 years, has denied allegations of wrongdoing, saying in the ethics proceeding that his request to be a UMMS consultant was made in good faith. He added, through counsel, that a $25 million fee was reasonable in light of his knowledge of medical malpractice law.
“The consulting agreement was … a serious proposal that was not a ‘sham’ in any way,” wrote Snyder’s attorneys in the pending ethics proceeding: Graham, of Kramon & Graham PA in Baltimore; and Douglas M. Bregman and Geoffrey T. Hervey, of Bregman, Berbert, Schwartz & Gilday LLC in Bethesda. “Being able to engage respondent as a consultant to UMMS would mean that, instead of bringing cases against it, (Snyder) could assist UMMS to address deficiencies in its program, avoid further claims, and deal effectively with any claims that were brought.”
During his years in practice, Snyder cultivated a reputation — burnished by aggressive advertising — as a hard-charging attorney who would obtain large settlements for his clients.
The case is docketed at U.S. District Court as United States of America v. Stephen L. Snyder, No. 1:20-cr-00337-GLR.