Philip Esformes, a former Miami Beach healthcare mogul convicted of playing a central role in one of the nation’s biggest Medicare fraud cases and using his ill-gotten millions to pay bribes for favors, won a commutation of his 20-year sentence from President Donald Trump Tuesday night.
Esformes, convicted of paying bribes, money laundering and other charges, was also ordered to pay $44 million to the taxpayer-funded Medicare program and the U.S. government after a grueling 2019 trial prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami and Justice Department. Trump’s commutation did not overturn that restitution order.
A handful of former federal prosecutors in South Florida questioned Trump’s clemency decision.
Former Illinois and Florida nursing home mogul Philip Esformes wept and pleaded for mercy Thursday before being sentenced to 20 years in prison for what the U.S. Justice Department called the largest single health care bribery and kickback scheme in American history.
Esformes, who once controlled a network of more than two dozen health care facilities that stretched from Chicago to Miami, garnered $1.3 billion Medicaid revenues by bribing medical professionals who referred patients to his Florida facilities then paid off government regulators as vulnerable residents were injured by their peers, prosecutors said.
He housed elderly patients alongside younger adults who suffered from mental illness and drug addiction — sometimes with fatal results. In Esformes’ Oceanside Extended Care Center in Miami Beach, “an elderly patient was attacked and beaten to death by a younger mental health patient who never should have been at (a nursing facility) in the first place,” prosecutors wrote in a pre-sentencing memo.
As he handed down the sentence, Judge Robert N. Scola Jr. said the length and scope of Esformes’ criminal conduct were “unmatched in our community. … Mr. Esformes violated the trust of Medicare and Medicaid in epic proportions.”
But Scola meted out a punishment significantly less than the 30 years prosecutors requested, saying Esformes also had an extraordinary history of helping people in need. Attorneys for Esformes had described him as a selfless philanthropist who had donated more than $15 million to synagogues, schools and needy individuals, often anonymously.
Said Scola: “I think he should get some consideration for his philanthropy, although it’s dangerous to say because he was stealing money from Medicare, so people might say he was giving that money to charity. But the vast majority of the money he made, he made legitimately. More importantly he was a true friend to people known and unknown to him, and that is worthy of mitigation.”