Via Capital New York – Scott Waldman and Laura Nahimas
ALBANY—The federal corruption case against Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver rests in part on his alleged scheme with a doctor who referred asbestos cases to the Weitz & Luxenberg law firm where Silver is of counsel.
A criminal complaint from U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara alleges that Silver obtained referrals of asbestos cases from a doctor affiliated with a university in Manhattan, referred to as “Doctor-1,” by using his position as speaker to quietly direct $500,000 in state funds to the doctor’s research and give “additional benefits” to the doctor and the doctor’s family.
The Doctor-1 described in the criminal complaint appears to be Dr. Robert Taub of Columbia University, based on details outlined in the criminal complaint, and confirmed by a secretary at his office and separately by a knowledgeable source. Taub specializes in mesothelioma research, for which it is hard to find research funding.
Reached by phone Thursday at his office, a secretary for Taub said he was the person identified in the federal complaint. “Yes, he is,” the secretary said.
She said she did not know whether he had retained an attorney, and later walked back her confirmation that he is in fact the doctor identified in the complaint.
“I don’t know exactly if he is, but people have been calling,” she said.
She declined to say whether Taub had a lawyer.
Doctor-1 has not been charged with any wrongdoing in the case; U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said today the doctor had entered into a non-prosecution agreement in exchange for his cooperation with the investigation.
Silver allegedly received millions of dollars in referral fees from Weitz & Luxenberg, and was credited with referring more than 100 clients, many of whom were referred for asbestos cases, according to the complaint.
The firm paid Silver $3.2 million for referrals related to asbestos cases between 2003 and 2014, according to the complaint. Prosecutors claim that several of those asbestos clients said they had been referred to Doctor-1 for treatment, and said the doctor had also recommended they retain Weitz & Luxenberg as their counsel.
The complaint says Doctor-1 founded the Mesothelioma Center at a New York hospital affiliated with a university.
Taub helped found the Mesothelioma Center at Columbia University and is the Vivian and Seymour Milstein Family professor of clinical medicine at the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons.
He is a “medical oncologist and hematologist with a special interest in the diagnosis, clinical care, and investigation of patients with malignant mesothelioma and soft tissue sarcoma,” according to an online biography on the school’s website.
A spokesman for Columbia University Medical Center, asked to verify whether or not Taub is the doctor named in the complaint, said, “We can’t comment on any legal matter.”
A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment.
The complaint refers to a May 2011 resolution sponsored by Silver that honors Doctor-1.
Taub was honored in a May 2011 resolution sponsored by Silver for “developing unique new treatment algorithms utilizing intracavitary chemotherapy for multimodal treatment of abdominal mesothelioma and for lung-sparing treatment of pleural mesothelioma,” state records show.
The complaints say the scheme began when the doctor allegedly asked Silver if his firm would help fund mesothelioma research and Silver declined. But prosecutors claim the doctor became aware that Silver wanted him to refer asbestos patients to Silver and the law firm for counsel, in exchange for funding for his medical research.
Doctor-1 started referring patients to Silver, and Silver began directing state funding to the doctor’s research, the complaint alleges.
In December 2003, Doctor-1 requested a $250,000 grant from Silver to establish a Mesothelioma center at a university, according to the complaint. The complaint also says that the request was granted, and Silver approved payment from a pool of discretionary funds paid for by health care-related assessments that was under Silver’s sole control until the year 2007.
Silver later directed another grant from the same pool of funds, also worth $250,000, to the Mesothelioma Center.
In 2008, the speaker directed a further $25,000 discretionary member item grant to a not-for-profit where the doctor was a board member, according to the complaint.
In 2012, the complaint alleges that Doctor-1 asked Silver for help in finding a family member a job with a nonprofit organization that “received millions of dollars in member items and capital funding from Silver.”
The head of the organization, which is not named, told investigators that it was the only time Silver asked the nonprofit organization to consider hiring anyone. The organization hired the doctor’s family member.
Weitz & Luxenberg derives more than 60 percent of its revenue for asbestos cases, according to the complaint. Mesothelioma cases are among the most lucrative of those cases because of the “disease’s clear causal link with asbestos exposure, pain and suffering caused by the disease,” the complaint details.
Silver had no official involvement in the asbestos practice of Weitz & Luxenberg, according to the complaint.
The complaint alleges that Doctor-1 became known to Silver through a mutual friend.
Silver’s attorneys earlier released a statement calling the charges against the speaker “meritless,” and said, “Mr. Silver looks forward to responding to them—in court—and ultimately his full exoneration.”