Madison - St. Clair Record

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Simmons Foundation gave $2.5 million to Columbia Univ. over four years; Simmons firm received 26 asbestos referrals over same period

By The Madison County Record | Dec 1, 2015


Asbestos lawyer John Simmons stands to make millions more on referrals from Dr. Robert Taub than Simmons' foundation gave Taub’s clinic.

Fees from the referrals could top $10 million, according to recent trial testimony.

The former chief executive of the Simmons firm, Gregg Kirkland, told New York City jurors that the firm signed 26 of Taub’s patients as clients in four years.

He told them mesothelioma claims settle for an average of $1 million.

He told them the firm’s fee is normally 40 percent.

Those factors indicate a potential yield of $10.4 million for the firm.

In those four years the Simmons Mesothelioma Foundation gave $2,519,000 to Taub’s employer, Columbia University.

That level of return appears exceptional. Illinois charity law sets strict standards for foundations.
Chapter 760 of the Illinois statute states:

“Any trustee who with malice and without lawful authority, in violation of the trust purposes or by intentional breach of fiduciary duty, intentionally disburses or causes charitable trust funds to be used for his personal benefit or personal use in an amount in excess of $1,000 within a five year period is guilty of a Class 2 felony and is subject to punitive damages up to or equal to the amount misused and is subject to a civil penalty of up to $50,000 for each intentional knowing violation.”

The connection between Simmons and Taub turned into evidence, in the corruption trial of former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

On Nov. 30, jurors found Silver abused his position by giving state funds to Taub while making money on referrals from him. Silver was found guilty on all seven counts of corruption.

Prior to 2009, Silver directed grants to Taub through Columbia.

At the time, state law allowed the Speaker, the Senate majority leader and the governor to award research grants without identifying the recipients.

Taub referred mesothelioma cases to Silver, and Silver passed the referrals along to the New York City firm of Weitz and Luxenberg.

Weitz and Luxenberg kept an office for Silver, paid him an annual salary of $120,000, and gave him a third of any fees from Taub’s referrals.

In 2009, state law changed to require disclosure of grant recipients.

Taub would receive no further grants from Silver.

Simmons then created a foundation with himself as chairman.

For trustees he chose Kirkland, managing partner Mike Angelides, employee Mark Motley and nurse Joy Wheeler.

They executed a contract with Columbia in 2010, pledging $3,150,000 in five years.

The contract restricted the money to Taub’s clinic and provided for discussion of termination if he left.

The foundation gave Columbia $950,000, and followed up with $700,000 in 2011, $69,000 in 2012, $400,000 in 2013, and $400,000 last year.

This January, federal prosecutors in Manhattan filed criminal information alleging that Silver deprived citizens of his honest services for personal gain.

The information did not name the source of Silver’s referrals but it offered enough clues to identify Taub.

Columbia fired him, but he sued and has kept his job.

The information did not name the firm that took his referrals after he split with Silver, but it offered enough clues to identify Simmons.

The indictment that followed didn’t mention a second firm at all.

At trial, Taub testified under a grant of immunity.

Prosecutors placed Simmons on their witness list but didn’t call him.

They called Kirkland instead, on Nov. 10, and they displayed on a wall the contract between the foundation and Columbia.

It stated that the foundation would make contributions in Taub’s honor.

Kirkland told jurors, “That’s how Dr. Taub and the university wanted it.”

Kirkland said $3,150,000 was the amount Taub suggested.

The contract required discussion if Taub left because, “Our relationship was with Dr. Taub,” Kirkland said. “We wanted to support his research.”

Taub referred a patient to the firm in a few weeks., Kirkland said, and Taub referred patients to Wheeler.

Kirkland said Weitz and Luxenberg were competitors but the Simmons firm referred some cases to Weitz and Luxenberg.

He said Weitz and Luxenberg referred no cases to Simmons.

“Dr. Taub wasn’t too fond of Weitz and Luxenberg because they didn’t support research,” Kirkland said.

On cross examination for Silver, Stephen Molo asked Kirkland if Simmons hired lawyers from Weitz and Luxenberg.

Kirkland said yes.

Molo said, “The three million one hundred fifty thousand dollars wasn’t given to Taub as a quid pro quo?”

Kirkland said no.

Prosecutor Andrew Goldstein asked him if the firm expected referrals.

Kirkland said, “We hoped we would get referrals by promoting research.”

Goldstein asked the source of the foundation’s money.

Kirkland said, “Profits after taxes.”

The Simmons Mesothelioma Foundation has supported research at other universities, less generously.

As of last Dec. 31, it had given $844,560 to the University of Pennsylvania, $775,000 to the University of Chicago, $750,000 to the University of California at San Francisco, $345,000 to the University of Pittsburgh, and $215,000 to New York University.

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Organizations in this Story

University of PittsburghUniversity of PennsylvaniaColumbia UniversityNew York UniversityWeitz and LuxenbergNew York State AssemblySimmons Hanly ConroyThe University of Chicago