White-Collar Crime

Quid pro quo? Doctor testifies about 'relationship' with lawmaker who got millions in referral fees

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Was it a quid quo pro? A physician testifying this week in the trial of a former New York legislative leader accused of misusing his office to get millions in law firm referral fees didn’t expressly say so.

But Dr. Robert Taub did tell the jury that he hoped by referring asbestos patients to a law firm for which the defendant, former state Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver, was counsel to strengthen a “relationship” with Silver and “incentivize” him to fund asbestos research, reports Newsday (sub. req.). An earlier Newsday (sub. req.) story provides additional details.

In a 2010, Taub, who referred dozens of patients to Weitz & Luxenberg over a 10-year period, said in an email to an asbestos victims advocate that “I will keep giving cases to Shelly because I may need him in the future—he is the most powerful man in New York State.”

Although the law firm never gave Taub any grant money and is not accused of any wrongdoing, Silver steered a total of $500,000 in state mesothelioma research grants to Taub in 2005 and 2006, Newsday reports. The money was paid before, rather than after, an application was initially made for a grant, according to testimony in the Manhattan case.

The 71-year-old attorney, who remains a Democratic member of the state Assembly although he has given up his longtime leadership post, faces charges of taking bribes, extortion and money-laundering. In addition to allegedly providing state asbestos research funding as a quid pro quo for asbestos patient referrals, he is accused of doing favors for developers in exchange for legal business.

During this week’s testimony, the defense pointed to a social relationship between Taub and Silver, Newsday reports. The two are both Orthodox Jews and their families spent Passover in the same hotel. But prosecutor Andrew Goldstein said at least 900 other families were there for Passover, too, and asked Taub if he and Silver became friendly before or after the asbestos case referrals began.

“The basis was the fact that I had referred patients to him,” Taub said, “and it developed from that.”

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Trial begins for former NY Assembly leader accused of misusing office to earn legal fees”

New York Times (reg. req.): “Witness in Sheldon Silver Trial Reveals Greed Masquerading as Altruism”

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