Prominent attorney Stephen L. Snyder is alleging misconduct by federal prosecutors who charged him with extortion, saying they falsely portrayed his 2018 discussions with the University of Maryland Medical System and prevented a meeting that would have exonerated him of wrongdoing.
Snyder has secured more than $100 million in malpractice claims from the medical system in recent years, according to his attorneys, and is accused of trying to obtain $25 million in the form of a sham consulting agreement in order to not go public about problems with its organ transplant program. The filing alleges prosecutors “intentionally tampered” with his efforts to make sure the agreement was legal and ethical.
The extortion indictment, Snyder’s attorneys argued in two lengthy motions to dismiss filed Tuesday, distorts Snyder’s comments by taking them out of context, not including exculpatory comments, and clipping together statements that in one case occurred 89 pages apart in the transcript of a recorded conversation.
“The Indictment in this case must be dismissed with prejudice because the government has set forth a falsified version of the most important meeting in this case,” the motion argues, citing an Aug. 23 meeting between Snyder and UMMS officials to discuss the potential consulting deal.
Federal prosecutors also allegedly blocked Snyder’s attempts to arrange a meeting with hospital officials and attorney Andrew J. Graham, which, according to Snyder’s attorneys, “by its very existence would’ve prevented the government from bringing the present case.”
Snyder contends he wanted to bring Graham in to advise both sides on how to create a legal and ethical consulting agreement.
“I’ll set up a meeting with Andy. If [the consulting deal] can’t be done, I don’t want to do it,” Snyder had told a hospital executive, according to a transcript of one recorded call that was not included in the indictment but cited in Tuesday’s filings. “You think I want to do something that’s wrong . .. at this stage of my [career]? Absolutely not.”
But prosecutors allegedly told hospital officials not to meet with Graham and continue to deal only with Snyder, whose attempts to extract millions of dollars in June of that year prompted hospital officials to go to federal authorities.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to respond to the accusations, saying it would respond in its own court filing next month.
Snyder, 73, long one of the top plaintiffs attorneys in the state, was brought up on attorney disciplinary proceedings last summer after investigators alleged that he sought a sham consulting agreement from the hospital system in exchange for not publicizing problems with its organ transplant program. He told The Baltimore Sun he was a “victim.” Federal prosecutors followed months later with extortion charges.
The University of Maryland Medical System has declined to comment on the cases against Snyder, but has 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.”
The federal case is one of two pending criminal indictments against prominent Baltimore attorneys, which are both being hotly contested. The U.S. Attorney’s Office’s public corruption unit previously charged high-profile attorney Kenneth Ravenell with racketeering for allegedly aiding a drug crew. Ravenell’s own attorney, Joshua Treem, has also been charged with obstruction of justice, after federal authorities recorded a meeting he had with an incarcerated drug boss. Treem’s attorneys are arguing that it was improper of authorities to record such a meeting.
The U.S. Attorney’s public corruption unit also has been conducting a criminal tax investigation of Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and her husband, Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby, who have preemptively accused federal prosecutors of bias.
Snyder’s motion reveals that the hospital system had paid Snyder and his clients more than $100 million in recent years to settle malpractice claims. In a seven-month period, the filing says, he secured $13.5 million for two clients. One of his clients was the wife of a man who died after surgery, and the other was a woman paralyzed after undergoing transplant surgery.
The indictment alleged that Snyder decided in the summer of 2018 to try to get additional millions from the hospital system that he would not have to share with his clients. He asked for $25 million and said it could be described as a consulting arrangement. At one point he joked that he could work as a janitor.
“You’ll use me when you want me, if at all,” Snyder told a hospital executive in one recorded call, according to prosecutors. “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.”
But federal authorities left out or distorted key portions of Snyder’s dialogue, said his attorneys, Arnold Weiner and Stuart Cherry.
“Astonishingly, the government has gone way beyond any arguably proper omission of exculpatory statements to create its fictitious narrative,” they wrote. “Here, the government has corrupted the Indictment by quoting statements or questions by UMMS representatives and following those statements with comments from Snyder, which it falsely presents as answers to those statements or questions. In actuality, and in each instance, Snyder’s comments were made in response to altogether different statements by UMMS representatives, and, when put back into proper sequence, are entirely innocent.”
Snyder’s attorneys hired a legal writing expert to evaluate the indictment’s text compared with the transcript of the conversation. According to Tuesday’s filings, that expert, Ross Guberman, concluded “the Indictment misrepresents Mr. Snyder’s actions and state of mind in relation to his ongoing settlement discussions with UMMS” by “employing deceptive devices and by ignoring passages that directly contradict the passages that the Indictment references.”
That includes leaving out Snyder’s attempts to include Graham in the talks, his attorneys wrote. Graham, of the law firm Kramon and Graham, often represents lawyers and judges facing ethics questions. Susan Kinter, the hospital’s insurance trust attorney, told Snyder that she did not need to meet with Graham, according to Tuesday’s filings.
Investigators with the bar counsel, in their review a year later, asked Kinter why she objected to Graham’s involvement.
“The Complainant [Kinter] explained that the USAO [U.S. Attorney’s Office] was pushing to have [Snyder] appear and present before the Board and that they were uncomfortable with Mr. Graham attending the meeting because it would be recorded,” the bar counsel wrote in its report, according to Snyder’s attorneys.
By preventing Graham from attending, Snyder’s attorneys wrote, federal prosecutors changed the course of events.
“Whatever the constitutional consequences of the government’s misconduct might have been in 2018, they certainly ripened into a full-fledged violation of Snyder’s right to due process of law, guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, when the government indicted Snyder and required him to defend himself after the government had engaged in outrageous misconduct that deprived Snyder of the very evidence that would have exonerated him beyond any doubt,” Snyder’s attorneys wrote.
Graham did not return messages seeking comment about his role in the negotiations with the university hospital system.
According to Kinter, Snyder’s attorneys wrote, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen Gavin, who was then the head of the public corruption unit, decided not to pursue charges against Snyder in September 2019. Kinter told bar counsel investigators that Gavin “declined to prosecute because of Mr. Graham’s involvement and [Snyder’s] potential advice of counsel defense that may negate the intent prong of the criminal charge,” they wrote.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise, who took over the public corruption unit, pushed forward in October 2020, according to Tuesday’s filings.
“Instead of acknowledging that the newly acquired evidence reinforced the original decision of the U.S. Attorney’s Office that this was not a case of criminal extortion, the prosecutors determined to move forward with an indictment. The solution to their dilemma was to craft an indictment that would make it appear, falsely, that Snyder’s case was no different from” the case against anti-Trump attorney Michael Avenatti, Snyder’s attorneys wrote.
Snyder’s attorneys wrote that the case against Avenatti, who was convicted of extorting Nike, set new guidance for what attorneys can and cannot do — which federal prosecutors in Maryland should have followed.
In that case, Avenatti was accused of using information obtained during the representation of his clients to seek money from Nike for himself and without his client’s knowledge. The judge in the Avenatti case ruled that the attorney “had no right — independent of his client ― to demand millions of dollars from Nike based on confidential information supplied by his client; without his client’s knowledge; and to his client’s detriment.”
But unlike Avenatti, Snyder’s attorneys wrote, Snyder’s client told investigators from the Attorney Grievance Commission that Snyder had her blessing to seek the extra consulting payout for himself.
The motion also said that courts have found that an attorney’s threats to take a case public or advertising for additional clients is not unlawful conduct.
“Threats to publicize a prospective defendant’s actions are so ingrained in settlement negotiations as to be unexceptional,” they wrote.