Federal prosecutors say plaintiffs attorney Stephen L. Snyder “did exactly what” disgraced lawyer Michael Avenatti did when Snyder sought a $25 million payout from the University of Maryland Medical System to keep problems with the hospital’s transplant program quiet.
The claim comes in response to a motion to dismiss the charges filed by Snyder’s attorneys, in which they accused the government of misconduct. Among other things, the defense cited the Avenatti case, in which the brash lawyer sought a payout from athletic apparel company Nike.
“His reliance on the Michael Avenatti case is telling, as Avenatti recently received a two-and-a-half year sentence for doing exactly what Snyder did,” Assistant U.S. Attorneys Leo J. Wise and Matthew P. Phelps wrote in a response filed late Friday.
Snyder represented a series of patients who had complications from organ transplants at UMMS, and in 2018 approached hospital officials about giving him a massive payout that would prevent him from bringing a negative press blitz as well as create a conflict of interest for him to bring future claims. Hospital officials said they became uncomfortable and reached out to the FBI, who recorded a series of phone calls as well as an Aug. 23, 2018, meeting.
“You’re getting an agreement where I’m allegedly doing some form of work for you,” prosecutors quote Snyder saying during the recorded meeting. “It’s not extortion.”
Snyder joked that he could work as a janitor, or have lunch with hospital officials as part of the consulting arrangement, the indictment said.
“That’s an expensive lunch,” prosecutors wrote in Friday’s filing. “And in any event, this argument ignores the fact that Snyder wasn’t just offering his services to UMMS. He threatened to destroy their transplant program and the hospital’s reputation if they didn’t take him up on his offer.
“In other words, he tried to make them an offer they couldn’t refuse.”
Snyder’s defense attorneys contended in June, in a motion to dismiss, that prosecutors had clipped out exculpatory statements from the indictment in which Snyder said he wanted to make sure the agreement was ethical.
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As part of those efforts, Snyder said, he repeatedly told the hospital that he wanted respected attorney Andrew Graham to be involved to help advise on how the arrangement could be crafted. But he said prosecutors blocked a meeting Snyder sought to set up with UMMS and Graham — a meeting that they say “by its very existence would’ve prevented the government from bringing the present case.”
Prosecutors responded by including new details from a recorded conversation between a hospital attorney and Graham, in which Graham appears to not be apprised of Snyder’s demands.
“When asked if he knew of Snyder’s plan, Graham made statements like ‘I don’t know much,’ ‘I don’t know any details,’ ‘I don’t really have any details at all,’ ‘I don’t have enough detail to, you know, sign off, particularly meaningfully,’ and that Snyder had not given him any ‘specifics.’ Snyder also said that Graham ‘honestly [didn’t] even know who suggested — who suggested it in the first place,’” prosecutors write.
That, prosecutors said, shows that Snyder wasn’t acting on the advice of his own attorney.
“If he had been, that would be a defense,” prosecutors said. “The Defendant cannot claim an advice of counsel defense because he had not disclosed his conduct to Graham.”
In Avenatti’s case, the lawyer best known for representing Stormy Daniels in her case against former President Donald Trump sought a $25 million consulting agreement with Nike in lieu of going public with a basketball coach’s claims that the company was paying amateur players. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison in early July after being found guilty of the extortion scheme by a jury last year.
The Snyder case is one of two pending cases in which the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office has brought criminal charges against prominent lawyers, saying they crossed a line into criminal conduct in their representation of clients. In the other case, attorney Kenneth Ravenell is accused of aiding a drug crew and attorney Joshua Treem accused of obstruction of justice in his defense of Ravenell.