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Judge rejects defense’s evidence requests in extortion case against Snyder

Maryland medical malpractice attorney Stephen L. Snyder, who is facing federal extortion charges, lost a bid to compel prosecutors to turn over more details about their investigation. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

Medical malpractice lawyer Stephen L. Snyder and his legal team have tried to make the government’s actions a central factor in his federal extortion case, arguing that investigators acted improperly as they examined Snyder’s 2018 request for a $25 million consulting agreement with the University of Maryland Medical System.

A federal judge didn’t buy it Thursday, calling the defense’s claims based “at least in part on pure speculation” as he rejected a motion that would have compelled the government to turn over more details about how it investigated Snyder.

The indictment against Snyder alleges that he attempted to extort UMMS by threatening to go public about problems with their flagship hospital’s organ transplant program if UMMS didn’t agree to a $25 million sham consulting agreement.

Snyder’s lawyers have argued in court filings that the government interfered in order to make the deal appear extortionate. Snyder repeatedly asked UMMS officials to meet with his lawyer, Andrew J. Graham, to discuss the propriety of the agreement before finalizing it.

Snyder’s repeated efforts to get UMMS to meet with Graham, his lawyers said, shows a lack of criminal intent to extort the hospital system.

Thursday’s hearing dealt with a defense request to compel exculpatory evidence from the prosecution. Snyder’s lead attorney, Arnold M. Weiner, claimed in court that federal investigators told UMMS not to schedule a meeting with Graham because that would have hurt the criminal case against Snyder.

“An extortionist does not bring an ethics expert to a shakedown,” Weiner said.

U.S. District Judge George Levi Russell disagreed, noting that Snyder did not tell Graham details of the proposed agreement, including the fact that Snyder was threatening to hurt the hospital system’s reputation by publicizing allegations about the transplant program.

Russell compared the proposal to a grocery store paying protection money to the mafia.

“The consideration was, ‘I’m not going to hurt you,'” Russell said.

Weiner also argued that the $25 million consulting agreement was part of a legitimate settlement Snyder was seeking in a transplant case. A woman whose husband died after a transplant became Snyder’s client and asked that Snyder consult with the hospital so in order to prevent continued problems, Weiner claimed.

But Snyder also offered to split the consulting deal from the settlement agreement, Russell noted, and said that he could “could be the janitor” or occasionally meet with UMMS officials in exchange for the multimillion-dollar payment. The agreement would have prevented Snyder from continuing to work on medical malpractice cases against UMMS.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise said Thursday that Snyder held the transplant settlement “hostage” in order to secure the consulting agreement.

“The one thing that is abundantly clear is that Stephen Snyder wanted his $25 million,” Wise said.

Wise compared the case to that of Michael Avenatti, the disgraced celebrity lawyer who once represented adult film star Stormy Daniels when she went public with claims of a sexual encounter with then-President Donald Trump.

Avenatti was convicted in 2020 of attempting to extort Nike by threatening to publicize damaging information in exchange for the company retaining Avenatti  — and paying him millions of dollars — to conduct an “internal investigation.”

Avenatti at least offered a service, Wise said Thursday. Snyder offered nothing to UMMS in exchange for the $25 million consulting agreement, making the proposal even more suspect, he said.

The federal attempted extortion allegation mirrors claims of ethical violations that Maryland Bar Counsel Lydia E. Lawless previously lodged against Snyder. The ethics proceeding against Snyder has been stayed, and he agreed to the suspension of his law license pending resolution of the criminal and ethical allegations.

Another hearing in Snyder’s case, this time on a motion to dismiss the indictment, is scheduled for June 15. Russell also alluded to another issue that may come up: a sealed motion to disqualify Weiner from the case.

Weiner demurred when asked about the motion in court and Russell did not offer additional details.