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Feds indict Baltimore malpractice lawyer Stephen Snyder, alleging he extorted UMMS transplant unit

Federal prosecutors in Baltimore indicted well-known medical malpractice lawyer Stephen L. Snyder on attempted extortion charges, saying he threatened to conduct an aggressive campaign to embarrass the University of Maryland Medical System over what he called dangerous organ transplants if it didn’t pay him $25 million.

The charges were announced late Monday and follow an attempt to sanction him by the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission. Snyder, 73, faces as much as 20 years in federal prison if convicted on the federal charges.

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Prosecutors said that Snyder demanded the hospital system pay him millions of dollars or else he would launch an online and media campaign that alleged University of Maryland doctors had transplanted diseased organs into patients without telling them.

“Snyder allegedly demanded that UMMS disguise the $25 million payment as a sham consulting arrangement between Snyder and UMMS,” prosecutors wrote.

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Reached by a Sun reporter Monday evening, Snyder said he was not aware of the charges and declined to comment.

“I’m really the victim, to be honest with you,” Snyder told The Sun at the time. “Unfortunately I’m being portrayed as the villain.”

Snyder said previously that he sought to become a paid consultant for the hospital, with his client’s approval, “so I could help straighten them out as a result of all the misconduct that was existing, and help prevent any future tragedies.”

In the new indictment, federal prosecutors allege Snyder was recorded saying: "You’ll use me when you want me, if at all. You know, when you need me, you know, you’ll call me once a month or you’ll have lunch with me once a month, and you’ll get advice from me. Hopefully, nothing will ever surface, no cases or anything. I don’t think they will.”

Snyder has long been considered one of Maryland’s top plaintiff’s attorneys. His firm, Snyder Litigation Group, produces television commercials with the slogan: “Don’t just sue them. Snyder them.”

The federal case levels serious accusations against Snyder while shedding light on the secretive process of resolving major medical malpractice claims behind closed doors.

UMMS, which went to the FBI in early 2019, declined to comment on the charges Monday but defended its work on organ transplants, saying “our experts often handle the most complex cases that other transplant centers have declined, and our program’s capabilities in kidney, heart, liver, pancreas and lung transplantation are well-recognized regionally and nationally.”

University of Maryland ultimately paid settlements on at least two cases brought by Snyder and his clients; one client was the wife of a man who died after surgery, and the other was a woman paralyzed after undergoing transplant surgery.

The complaint also alleges that at one point Snyder told hospital officials he was ready to launch an advertising campaign, showing them a video he produced called “Caught Red Handed.” He characterized the case of the man who died as a “gold mine,” according to the complaint.

“He stated again that M.S. (his client) does not ‘deserve’ $25 million and that the $25 million was for him to keep quiet about what he had uncovered,” the attorney grievance commission’s complaint alleges. “He stated that there were ‘devastating’ emails that would only be kept confidential if he was paid $25 million.”

Snyder repeatedly told the hospital’s insurance trust attorney, Susan Kinter, that “monumental problems” within the transplant division would be damaging to the hospital if made public, the attorney grievance commission complaint said.

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When Kinter asked why $25 million, Snyder stated, “because that is what you have to pay me” and that it could have been “$100 million,” according to the complaint; he said it could be delivered in the form of a consulting agreement.

“When asked what he proposed to do to earn a $25 million consulting fee, [Snyder] said, ‘I could be a janitor.’ [Snyder] stated that it would be a ‘tragedy’ if UMMS did not pay him, that Ms. Kinter would get fired and that the hospital would say, ‘how the [expletive] did you let this happen,’” the complaint reads.

In 2019, hospital officials retained outside counsel, former Baltimore State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein, who recommended they go to the FBI. In a series of meetings with hospital officials that August, Snyder reiterated many of his past comments while being surreptitiously recorded, according to the complaint.

The complaint alleged he threatened that this campaign would include news articles, a press conference, internet advertisements and commercials. At one point, Snyder allegedly said he would use an “Internet bomb” that would cause an ad for Snyder’s law firm to pop up for anyone viewing UMMS’s transplant web site, according to the indictment.

Snyder told The Sun in July that the FBI had cleared him of wrongdoing; the FBI declined to confirm or deny an investigation at the time. But Snyder said that his comments to UMMS were in the “context of litigation” and not criminal.

“That’s protected under the law — if you’re threatening to use the legal process, and legal process is the courtroom, you’re protected,” Snyder said.

In addition to attempted extortion, Snyder also faces six counts of violating the Travel Act, which forbids the use of the U.S. mail, or interstate or foreign travel, to engage in extortion among other criminal acts.

The federal case revealed a previously unknown internal hospital investigation that preceded the departure of Dr. Stephen T. Bartlett, who was the University of Maryland Medical Center’s chief of surgery and UMMS' chief medical officer.

Snyder’s early contacts were with Bartlett, one of the state’s highest-paid employees. Bartlett left the hospital system at the end of 2018, ending a 28-year relationship, though the hospital system said it was not related to the Snyder situation.

The attorney grievance commission complaint against Snyder alleges that hospital officials ordered an internal investigation and determined Bartlett had not disclosed all of his meetings with Snyder.

University of Maryland Medical Center is a major transplant hospital, performing more than 400 transplants a year. In 2012, a team that included Bartlett performed what was the nation’s most comprehensive face transplant. The hospital has one of the nation’s largest kidney transplant programs.

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