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Silberman Fled Fearing Judge Was Biased, His Lawyer Claims

February 19, 1990|RICHARD SERRANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAS VEGAS — Prominent businessman Richard T. Silberman 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 charged Sunday.

The lawyer, James Brosnahan, said that Silberman, who was found unconscious in a Las Vegas hotel early Saturday night, had become upset after reading a newspaper story in San Diego that quoted the judge as describing as "self-incriminating" comments Silberman allegedly made to FBI agents immediately after his arrest last April.

"That article made it clear in his mind that the judge was against him and unfair," Brosnahan said.

Brosnahan made his allegation outside the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada, where Silberman, 60, was listed in good condition Sunday. Silberman was rushed to the hospital Saturday after police found him lying on his hotel bed at the Las Vegas Hilton.

While authorities have speculated that he was under the influence of "some kind of substance" at the time he was found, they have not determined what, if anything, Silberman ingested.

But Lt. Randy Oaks of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department said Sunday that Silberman might have died had police not used a passkey to enter his room and sent him to the hospital when they did early Saturday night--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 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."

Brosnahan suggested Sunday that Silberman has been under severe stress since he was arrested last April 7 on suspicion of laundering $300,000 that he thought was profits from drug-trafficking, but that actually was money from an undercover FBI agent.

The lawyer said that an article in the San Diego Tribune last 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 his client's stress level.

"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 story 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 story 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 direct connection" between Silberman's reading of Irving's remarks and his becoming convinced that he could not get a fair trial.

Brosnahan did not say Sunday whether he would request a new judge in the case.

Asst. 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 that they believed to be Colombian drug profits. The money was part of an elaborate FBI sting operation 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 Saturday evening after learning that her husband had been found at the Hilton hotel here. She spent the night with him at the medical center and has steadfastly refused to talk to reporters.

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