NEW YORK (AP) — A prominent Columbia University cancer researcher testified Thursday how federal agents spooked him by showing up at his apartment at 6 a.m. one day last summer and, with the physician still in his pajamas, demanding to know about his dealings with New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
"I was terrified and confused. ... I don't know what thoughts I had beyond the panic," Dr. Robert Taub told jurors at Silver's bribery trial in federal court in Manhattan.
The testimony came under cross-examination by defense attorney Steven Molo, who sought to show that federal authorities used intimidation tactics to get Taub to cooperate and help implicate Silver in what prosecutors portray as a bribery scheme orchestrated by the once-powerful Democrat.
The cancer researcher testified that he was so unnerved by the unannounced visit amid a brewing corruption scandal in Albany that he lied by telling the agents he had never referred asbestos cancer patients to Silver's personal injury law firm so it could seek multimillion-dollar settlements from lawsuits.
Asked if he thought his lie would put an end to the matter, he responded, "It was irrational, but that's what I hoped."
Silver, 71, who was arrested in January, has pleaded not guilty to charges that he amassed $5 million in illicit income through extortion and bribery in the two decades he was speaker before resigning from the post. His lawyers claim overzealous prosecutors are attempting to criminalize how politics is practiced at the statehouse.
The 79-year-old Taub testified that following the encounter with federal agents in August 2014, he sought to contact Silver but the assemblyman refused to speak to him. Sensing he could be in "big trouble," the doctor said he decided to contact the investigators and change his story.
Taub ended up telling prosecutors that at the urging of a mutual friend, he began sending patients to Silver in the early 2000s in hopes of getting his support for mesothelioma research. Prosecutors say Silver reciprocated by quietly channeling $500,000 in state grants to Taub's research project.
When Taub sought more money, Silver told him, "I can't do that anymore," the doctor testified. However, Taub told a colleague in an email, "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."
Of his fundraising efforts, Taub wrote: "No enterprise (excluding patient care), ever, ever grew or succeeded as a result of pure righteousness. Usually success is propelled by greed, envy, or both."
Taub agreed to testify in a deal that let him escape prosecution for false statements. In two days of testimony, he detailed how he and Silver traded favors, but denied it was bribery.
The trial is scheduled to resume Monday.