Richard T. Silberman abruptly vanished from San Diego last week after he became convinced that a federal judge presiding over his upcoming money-laundering case "was against him and unfair," his defense attorney said here Sunday.
James Brosnahan said his client, who was found unconscious in a Las Vegas hotel room early Saturday night, had become upset after reading a quote in a San Diego newspaper Thursday in which the judge described as "self-incriminating" comments Silberman allegedly made to FBI agents immediately after his arrest last April.
"Make no mistake about it, and let me be very clear," Brosnahan said. "That article made it clear in his mind that the judge was against him and unfair. He has felt the judge has been extremely unfair to him, and I know this to be true."
Brosnahan leveled his allegation outside University Medical Center of Southern Nevada, where Silberman, 60, was listed in good condition Sunday afternoon. The San Diego businessman was rushed to the hospital Saturday evening after police found him in a hotel bed at the Las Vegas Hilton.
Although authorities said Silberman was under the influence of "some kind of substance" when he was found, they had not yet determined what he ingested.
However, Lt. Randy Oaks of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, said Sunday that Silberman might have died if police had not used a passkey to enter his room and sent him to the hospital when they did--about 48 hours after he disappeared from San Diego.
"The detective who found him felt he was in a life-threatening
situation, and the medical people agreed," Oaks said. "That's why we transported him to the hospital as fast as we did."
Oaks said Detective Dan Harness found Silberman unconscious, naked from the waist up and under the covers of the bed. Harness quickly administered a "sternum rub technique" that causes enough pain for a person to regain consciousness, Oaks explained.
When Silberman regained consciousness, the detective began asking him questions, the first being whether he was in Las Vegas voluntarily.
"He said yes he was," Oaks said. "He was asked what caused his condition, and he did not respond to that question. By then, he was fading in and out of consciousness."
Oaks said a handwritten letter from Silberman to his wife, San Diego County Supervisor Susan Golding, was in a sealed envelope in the hotel room, but he declined to discuss its contents. He also said there is not enough evidence to suggest that Silberman had actually attempted suicide.
"Right now, this is a suspicious-circumstances case," Oaks said. "I don't feel we have enough basis to characterize it as an attempted suicide."
He noted that there were no guns, knives or other weapons in Room 547, where Silberman had registered under his own name Thursday night. There were no needle tracks on Silberman's arms or any evidence that he suffered self-inflicted wounds, the lieutenant said.
"There was no external trauma at all," Oaks said.
However, Brosnahan suggested Sunday that his client has been under severe stress since he was arrested April 7 and accused of laundering $300,000 he believed to be illicit drug profits but that actually was money from an undercover FBI agent.
The lawyer said an article in the San Diego Tribune on Thursday--which quoted U.S. District Judge J. Lawrence Irving as saying that Silberman had incriminated himself in statements to FBI agents after his arrest--only exacerbated Silberman's stress.
"The point is that he saw that, he circled it, and it was the only newspaper he had in his bag," Brosnahan said. "He then got on a plane. He came to Las Vegas. And he's in this hospital."
The Tribune article detailed a memo in which Irving rejected Silberman's contention that he had been denied legal representation before making the purportedly self-incriminating remarks after his arrest.
Quoting from Irving's memo, the article said that the judge wrote: "Silberman indicated that he did not wish to speak to an attorney and proceeded to make self-incriminating statements. The evidence shows that Silberman, after being informed of his Miranda rights, knowingly and voluntarily waived such rights both in writing and later orally."
Irving could not be reached for comment Sunday.
But Brosnahan said there was "a connection, a direct connection" between Silberman reading Irving's remarks and then becoming convinced that he could not get a fair trial.
However, Brosnahan did not say Sunday whether he would request a new judge in the case.
However, he said he and Silberman see many problems with the alleged confession, which was detailed in an FBI report released Friday.
"There's no evidence from Mr. Silberman," Brosnahan said. "All there is is an FBI document which is very, very suspicious."
The lawyer also suggested that there is no basis for federal prosecutors to attempt to revoke Silberman's $500,000 bail simply because he disappeared to Las Vegas and was unaccounted for for two days.
He pointed out that the bond restrictions allow Silberman to travel anywhere in the United States, and that his client often has left San Diego for trips to Los Angeles and other cities.
"All I'm saying is that, under these circumstances, if the government moves to do something on his bail, it would be really a callous kind of a thing," Brosnahan said.
"I think the government from the beginning has been overzealous. I think they have used techniques that no decent human would use. But, at some point, Mr. Silberman will be ready to go back to San Diego and fight those charges."
Assistant U.S. Atty. Charles F. Gorder Jr., the lead prosecutor in the case, declined to comment Sunday on Brosnahan's remarks.
Silberman, reputed San Diego mobster Chris Petti and three other men are charged with laundering $300,000 they purportedly believed to be Colombian drug profits. The money was actually part of an elaborate FBI sting that culminated in their arrest last April.
Silberman, a former top official in the administration of California Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., is scheduled to become the first of the defendants to stand trial when his case is heard in April.
Golding flew to Las Vegas on Saturday evening after learning that her husband had been found. She spent the night with him at the medical center and has steadfastly refused to talk to reporters.
Sources close to the case have said Silberman recently transferred large sums of money, perhaps as much as $1 million, from his bank account to his wife's account. But Brosnahan on Sunday downplayed the significance of any major monetary transactions.
"I wouldn't comment on that, except to say he has done no exciting financial things or anything like that," he said.
Brosnahan and medical center officials also declined to discuss what drugs or alcohol, if any, Silberman might have ingested. Dale Pugh, medical center spokesman, said Sunday that toxicology reports will not be completed for several days and then can be publicly released only at the patient's discretion.