Prominent but suspended medical malpractice attorney Stephen L. Snyder urged a federal judge Monday to dismiss his indictment for attempted extortion, saying prosecutors have failed to show his request that the University of Maryland Medical System pay him a $25 million consulting fee was just that – and not a threat to go public with allegations of organ transplant irregularities if UMMS refused to meet his price.
In papers filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Snyder’s defense attorneys said FBI recordings and contemporaneous notes of UMMS personnel confirm that he “repeatedly offered to provide advice” to help the health care facility avoid liability while keeping it “on the straight and narrow.”
Defense counsel stated that the consultancy would be no different than UMMS’ retainer agreements with attorneys who help ensure the system complies with medical standards of care and avoids liability. The agreement with Snyder would have the added benefit of disqualifying him from using his legal expertise to oppose UMMS during the 10-year span of the proposed consulting agreement, added attorneys Arnold M. Weiner, Stuart A. Cherry and Devon L. Harman.
“(T)he government claims that Snyder sought only a ‘sham’ consulting/retainer agreement, for which he would not have provided services and from which UMMS would not have derived any value,” wrote Weiner, Cherry and Harman of Rifkin Weiner Livingston LLC in Baltimore.
“(But) Snyder reminded UMMS that, in just the few months of 2018 during which they were discussing Snyder’s proposed arrangement, Snyder settled two failed transplant cases with UMMS for a combined amount of $13.5 million, more than half the $25 million that UMMS would pay Snyder over a decade,” Weiner, Cherry and Harman added. “The government cannot escape the important facts, already confirmed in UMMS’ documents and the FBI recordings, simply by attaching a pejorative label to Snyder’s proposal and incorrectly calling it a ‘mere sham.’”
Snyder also alleged the federal 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.
“In essence, the government asks this court to endorse the unethical and fraudulent practice of stating only half-truths in an indictment’s narrative, even though the law does not tolerate such half-truths in ordinary commercial dealings among ordinary citizens, in commercial dealings between citizens and the government or in any other pleading or filing with a court,” the defense attorneys wrote.
In addition, Snyder claimed 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.
Snyder’s filing was in furtherance of his June motion to dismiss the federal government’s indictment and in response to federal prosecutors repeated allegation that Snyder’s request for $25 million was coupled with a threat 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 the U.S attorney’s office in Maryland, 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.
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.
U.S. District Judge George L. Russell III has not stated when he will rule on Snyder’s motion to dismiss the criminal charges.
The case is docketed at U.S. District Court as United States of America v. Stephen L. Snyder, No. 1:20-cr-00337-GLR.
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