Prominent Baltimore attorney Stephen Snyder denounced federal prosecutors’ comparison of him to disgraced attorney Michael Avenatti, calling the accusations false and saying the criminal cases against them are nothing alike.
Snyder, 74, is facing federal extortion charges for seeking to a $25 million payment from the University of Maryland Medical System in 2018. In exchange, he said, he would keep quiet about problems with its organ transplant program, according to the late 2020 indictment.
Snyder is accusing prosecutors of misconduct, saying they selectively edited his comments, told hospital officials not to take part in a meeting that he says would have shown that he had no criminal intent, and refuse to turn over exculpatory materials.
Responding in September to Snyder’s motion to dismiss the charges, prosecutors said Snyder did “exactly” what Avenatti did when he sought millions from athletic apparel Nike in exchange for not going public with a basketball coach’s claims that the company was paying amateur players. Avenatti, lawyer best known for representing Stormy Daniels in her case against former President Donald Trump, was convicted and was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison.
But Snyder’s attorneys Arnold Weiner, Stuart Cherry and Devon Harman said in a new filing Monday that the cases are nothing alike. Avenatti had taken information from a client, which was damaging to that client, and tried to use it to get money from Nike. His client had no idea of the effort, and it did not advance the client’s interests.
That is a crucial difference, Snyder’s attorneys contend, writing that Snyder’s client asked him to pursue a consulting agreement with UMMS and make it part of any settlement she may reach with the hospital. They argue that Snyder asked for the consulting agreement — which prosecutors contend was a sham — and threatened to publicize the problems at UMMS as part of his representation of her.
They say the cases are as different “as day is from night.”
“That nexus brings Snyder within the litigation exception from prosecution for extortion and provides him complete protection from charges that the government levels against him,” Snyder’s attorneys wrote.
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 a Sept. 8 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 reiterated Friday that they believe the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute the case in 2018, and would have compiled a memorandum explaining why, which they say prosecutors should have to provide to Snyder’s defense. Prosecutors have said that such a memo would constitute “work product” and does not need to be disclosed.
Not turning over the memorandum “reinforces the evidence of prosecutorial impropriety that is already in the record and further suggests that the government continues to have something to hide,” Snyder’s attorneys wrote.
And they reiterated that federal authorities were wrong to block UMMS officials from meeting with Andrew Graham, a veteran attorney who Snyder wanted to sign off on the consulting arrangement. Snyder had said at various points that if the deal couldn’t be consummated ethically, it would be called off, and Snyder’s attorneys say federal authorities told UMMS not to meet with Graham.
“It should be beyond debate that the meeting with Mr. Graham ... would have demonstrated that Snyder acted without criminal intent at all times throughout the period covered by the indictment,” they said.
They are asking for a hearing in front of U.S. District Court Judge George L. Russell.
“If the government truly believed that it could vindicate itself‚” Snyder’s attorneys say, “there would be no reason for the prosecutors to resist a public motions hearing so stubbornly and with such obvious anxiety.”