Attorney's Fraud Conviction Upset Over State's Lack of Evidence
A New York state appellate panel has thrown out the convictions of a Long Island personal injury attorney and his firm, finding that the state presented insufficient evidence that the defendants used "steerers" to sign up accident victims or that they coached clients to fabricate injuries.
Following a two-week nonjury trial in 2005, attorney Daivery Taylor and his Freeport, N.Y.-based firm Silverman & Taylor were found guilty of charges stemming from the alleged conspiracy.
Taylor was sentenced to five years of probation and a $5,000 fine. He was subsequently disbarred on the basis of his felony conviction.
In a decision released Wednesday, a unanimous Appellate Division, 2nd Department, panel threw out the case, citing a lack of evidence.
"[E]ven viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution ... we find that it was legally insufficient to establish the defendants' guilt of scheme to defraud in the first degree ... and offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree," the panel held in People v. Taylor, 1706 N/04.
In August 2004, the New York state attorney general's office indicted six people and five businesses on charges of engaging in a conspiracy to file auto insurance complaints. In addition to Taylor and his firm, the defendants included two acupuncturists, an insurance broker and another attorney, Paul Ajlouny of Garden City, N.Y.
According to the indictment, Taylor paid "steerers" to direct clients to his office by guaranteeing the victims would get large cash settlements. He then allegedly instructed his clients to lie about their injuries to strengthen their claims.
The case became a symbol of the efforts of the anti-insurance fraud campaign launched by then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.
Taylor opted for a bench trial, and on Sept. 29, 2005, was found guilty by Nassau County Court Judge Jeffrey S. Brown of one count of scheme to defraud and four counts of offering a false instrument for filing, all Class E felonies.
The felony conviction resulted in Taylor's automatic disbarment in July 2007.
Taylor and his firm appealed the convictions on various grounds, including a lack of evidence.
"It is remarkable that for all of the years-long investigation ... and the thousands of taped conversations, the prosecution had no solid evidence -- not a single patient, not a single medical record, not a single document -- that demonstrated Mr. Taylor's complicity in an alleged fraud," Taylor's attorneys argued in their appellate brief.
The 2nd Department agreed, and Thursday not only threw out the conviction but also dismissed the 32-count indictment.
The panel ruled that prosecutors presented insufficient evidence to sustain either the fraud or the false-instrument convictions.
"The People failed to prove that the defendants obtained property from any person by means of 'a systematic ongoing course of conduct with intent to defraud,'" the panel concluded.
"The only proof as to any discrete sums of money and/or property obtained from anyone ... was testimony from three injured accident victims that they received 'settlements,' apparently from insurance companies, or payments from the defendant Law Offices of Silverman & Taylor. ... However, there is no proof that this money was obtained by false or fraudulent pretenses."
Justices Robert A. Lifson, Anita R. Florio, Edward D. Carni and Ariel E. Belen decided the case.
Gerald B. Lefcourt, Richard B. Levitt and Yvonne Shivers represented Taylor. Lefcourt said his client will seek reinstatement to the Bar and praised the reversal as "bold and dramatic" justice.
"Here's a young lawyer, really at the beginning of his career, working really hard on his cases, [and] every one of the people suffered actual injury," Lefcourt said. "He said things to his clients that I'm sure all personal injury lawyers say to their clients -- that your recovery is measured in some part on the extent of your injuries."
Richard E. Mischel and Lisa R. Marlow Wolland of Mischel & Horn represented Silverman & Taylor. Mischel could not be reached for comment.
Roseann B. MacKechnie and Monica Wagner represented the attorney general's office. An office spokesman said prosecutors were reviewing their options.
||Truth in Justice