Baltimore Attorney Charged With $25M Extortion Attempt Against UMMS

    A prominent Baltimore attorney threatened to launch a publicity campaign attacking the University of Maryland Medical System’s organ donation program unless he was paid $25 million to keep quiet, according a federal indictment for attempted extortion filed Monday.

    Stephen L. Snyder, 72, was the senior partner at a Baltimore law firm specializing in medical malpractice cases when he made the threats during multiple meetings with medical system officials in 2018, according to the eight-count indictment filed in U.S. District Court.

    In 2018, Snyder represented at least two clients who underwent transplants at the University of Maryland Medical Center. He reached an undisclosed settlement with the system for one client, who experienced a “spinal cord infarction” that left the patient paralyzed after a pancreas transplant.

    The second client underwent a kidney transplant surgery. Later, the patient’s blood vessels calcified, he suffered a heart attack and one of his legs had to be amputated. About a year after the transplant, the patient died, according to federal court records.

    In meetings and in a letter, Snyder demanded $25 million on behalf of the client, though he said in later conversations that his client’s case was “not worth that much money” and that the payment would be to him, according to federal prosecutors.

    Snyder suggested that the $25 million payment be disguised as a sham consulting agreement during discussions with UMMS officials, which were surreptitiously taped.

    If UMMS did not agree to pay Snyder, he threatened to launch a publicity campaign against UMMS, alleging that the system transplanted diseased organs into unsophisticated patients without informing them of the quality of the organs they were receiving in order to generate revenue. The campaign would include news stories, videos and an “Internet bomb” that would load whenever someone visited the UMMS website, according to the indictment.

    Snyder claimed that he had learned of a culture of “profits over safety” at UMMS and that there was a greater chance of death and graft failure at UMMS than the national average.

    During one of the meetings, Snyder played a commercial for UMMS officials that his law firm had produced. The video claimed that the kidney transplanted in his client had been rejected by 250 other institutions and included images of the client with necrotic fingertips and an amputated leg.

    In June 2018, Snyder said he wanted to increase his demand to $50 million. At various meetings when Snyder was questioned about the proposed payment, he said it was not being negotiated for the benefit of his client, but as a consultant payment to himself. Snyder suggested he could do little to no work as a consultant, but would keep quiet if paid. “I could be the janitor,” he said at one point, according to the indictment.

    During conversations with UMMS officials, Snyder said his actions didn’t amount to extortion and he was trying to negotiate a settlement on behalf of a client that would secure her silence, as well as his.

    UMMS ultimately filed a complaint against Snyder to the Attorney Grievance Commission and solicited the FBI to investigate, The Baltimore Sun reported.

    Snyder faces a maximum penalty of 20 years for the attempted extortion charge, as well as for each of seven counts of violating the Travel Act, which prohibits interstate travel or the use of interstate facilities like the internet or text messages to commit a crime.

    On Monday evening, UMMS officials said they could not comment on the criminal or administrative proceedings against Snyder, but said the University of Maryland Medical Center has served patients who “suffer from the devastating and life-limiting effects of end stage renal disease, heart failure or pulmonary or liver disease” for more than 50 years.

    “Through our innovative techniques and surgical excellence, we have given those needing an organ transplant the opportunity to savor more time with the people they love and enjoy a healthier quality of life,” the statement continued. “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.”

    A message left with Snyder’s Baltimore law firm was not immediately returned Monday.

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    Danielle E. Gaines
    Danielle Gaines most recently worked for Bethesda Beat covering Montgomery County. Previously, she spent six years at The Frederick News-Post as the paper’s principal government and politics reporter for half that time, covering courts and legal affairs before that. She also reported for the now-defunct The Gazette of Politics and Business in Maryland and previously worked as a county government and education reporter at the Merced Sun-Star in California’s Central Valley.