MANHATTAN — A prominent cancer doctor at the center of an alleged bribery scheme that funneled millions to Assemblyman Sheldon Silver testified Thursday that he hoped a relationship with the powerful politician would help fund his research — but the pair had no explicit deal.
Over about 10 years, Dr. Robert Taub referred his patients suffering from mesothelioma, a form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure, to Silver's law firm, Weitz & Luxenberg. Silver, who was already making $120,000 a year from the firm while doing no legal work, would get extra money, deemed a "referral fee" for bringing the cases to the firm, which is known for its handling of asbestos cases, prosecutors said.
While Silver was bringing in the patients — a total of about 25 to 50 — he authorized two state grants, each worth $250,000 to fund Taub's Columbia University research, focused on mesothelioma cases related to 9/11.
Prosecutors say that Silver bribed Taub, 79, with state funds in order to keep the patients and thus the referral fees coming in, and tried to hide the whole scam. Prosecutors claim Silver, the former Assembly Speaker, earned more than $3 million from the kickback scheme.
While Taub, a key witness for the government, admitted that he "hoped to develop a relationship with [Silver] that would help fund mesothelioma research and would help my patients as well," on the stand yesterday, the New York Times reported — Thursday's testimony, under cross-examination from the defense, brought out a more nuanced view of their relationship.
The doctor, who has a non-prosecution agreement in exchange for his testimony, said that he hoped the referrals would "incentivize" Silver to help him get state funding, and be an advocate for mesothelioma research, but he never did anything explicitly in "exchange" for anything, the Times reported.
The defense is trying to build the case that shows though relationships may appear to be a conflict of interest, there was no corrupt intent — and Silver did nothing illegal.
Prosecutors said that Silver also helped Taub's son get a job and his daughter get an internship.
Silver and Taub had known each other for several years through a mutual friend.
Silver is on trial for fraud and money laundering charges. He faces more than 100 years in jail if found guilty.
The politician, who has served Lower Manhattan for more than 40 years — 20 of those as Assembly Speaker, a position he gave up after being charged — has repeatedly said that he will be vindicated.
The trial is expected to last four to six weeks.