Sheldon Silver Trial Day 3: Cancer Researcher Urged to Stop Sending Referrals

Here’s the latest from the federal corruption trial of former Lower East Side Assemblyman Sheldon Silver.

Prosecutors are retrying their case after an appeals court overturned Silver’s 2015 guilty verdict. In day 3 of testimony yesterday, jurors heard from a former nurse who worked for Dr. Robert Taub. The cancer researcher, formerly employed by Columbia University, referred lucrative personal injury cases to the law firm, Weitz & Luxenberg, which then paid Silver $3.3 million in referral fees.

The nurse, Mary Hesdorffer, recounted an episode from 2003 in which the doctor advised a patient suffering from mesothelioma to drop her current lawyer and to go with Weitz & Luxenberg instead. The patient was the first referral Taub made to the firm. Prosecutors allege a quid-pro-quo arrangement in which Silver rewarded Taub with $500,000 in state grants. Here’s how the Daily News summed up Hesdorffer’s testimony:

Hesdorffer said she didn’t see the entire interchange between Taub and O’Leary, and was unaware of Taub’s relationship with Silver. But she was furious nonetheless. “It was a turning point — it was something different,” Hesdorffer testified in Manhattan federal court. It was especially surprising, she said, because they worked for a prominent academic institution with high ethical standards. “I told him it was slimy, it was unbecoming to do. I wanted nothing to do with it,” Hesdorffer said.  She said Taub responded to her in the “usual fashion” of some of their discussions — by “calling me a school teacher, a nun — I was too rigid.”

Taub cultivated relationships with other lawyers. An Illinois firm gave him more than $3 million for cancer research. Hesdorffer later became executive director of the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, but refused to give her former boss any grants.  At one point, she warned Taub about his “unethical” and potentially illegal practices: “I told him they would take him out (of his clinics) in handcuffs.”  Taub was fired by Columbia in the aftermath of Silver’s arrest and indictment of fraud and money laundering charges.
As the Post reported, that line about taking Taub out “in handcuffs” caused some controversy in the courtroom yesterday:
Before (Hesdorffer) could finish the sentence, Silver’s lawyers jumped up and objected. The judge also quickly intervened and told the jury to “disregard” the statement, which was then stricken from the record.
Also testifying for the prosecution yesterday were Perry Weitz and Arthur M. Luxenberg. Silver was hired by Weitz & Luxenberg in 2002. They said the powerful assembly speaker was simply brought on at a salary of $120,000 to add prestige. AM NY reported from the courtroom:

“What were your expectations about Sheldon Silver using his position to bring cases to the firm,” federal prosecutor Tatiana Martins asked Weitz on the third day of Silver’s retrial. “None,” Weitz responded. “Basically, we were giving Shelly an office. We didn’t expect him to do work…We didn’t hire him to bring in cases.” … The law firm’s founders said Wednesday they didn’t know that Silver allegedly steered state grants to Taub’s research center or allegedly helped Taub’s children to secure jobs.

Several other witnesses took the stand yesterday, including retired State Supreme Court Justice Martin Schoenfeld. He hired Dr. Taub’s daughter for an unpaid summer internship at the request of an aide to Sheldon Silver. Schoenfeld and Silver are neighbors in the Hillman Cooperative on Grand Street. More from AM NY:

Schoenfeld said Taub’s daughter did “excellent” work. He added that only once before had Silver asked him to consider someone for a job: Silver’s mother-in-law was hired to be Schoenfeld’s secretary. Under cross examination by one of Silver’s lawyers, Schoenfeld said that Taub’s daughter won the internship on merit. “You didn’t speak to Mr. Silver about Mrs. Blander?” asked Silver attorney Rebecca Naeder. “No, I did not,” Schoenfeld said.

Television reporter Dominic Carter got a few words with Silver at the courthouse the other day: