Miami, Florida - A federal jury found a South Florida health care facility owner guilty Friday for his role in the largest health care fraud scheme ever charged by the Justice Department, involving over $1.3 billion in fraudulent claims to Medicare and Medicaid for services that were not provided, were not medically necessary or were procured through the payment of kickbacks.
Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan of the Southern District of Florida, Special Agent in Charge George Piro of the FBI’s Miami Field Office, Special Agent in Charge Shimon R. Richmond of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Miami Regional Office and Deputy Administrator and Director Alec Alexander of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Center for Program Integrity made the announcement.
After an eight-week trial, Philip Esformes, 50, of Miami Beach, Florida, was convicted of one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, two counts of receipt of kickbacks in connection with a federal health care program, four counts of payment of kickbacks in connection with a federal health care program, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, nine counts of money laundering, two counts of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery, and one count of obstruction of justice before U.S. District Judge Robert N. Scola Jr. of the Southern District of Florida. Sentencing has not yet been scheduled.
“Philip Esformes orchestrated one of the largest health care fraud schemes in U.S. history, defrauding Medicare and Medicaid to the tune of over a billion dollars,” said Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski. “I commend our dedicated prosecutors and law enforcement partners for their professionalism and unyielding pursuit of justice on behalf of American taxpayers and vulnerable beneficiaries who, as a result of Esformes’s crimes, were denied the level of care that they needed and deserved.”
“Philip Esformes’ criminal scheme defrauded America’s health care system out of millions of dollars, that would have otherwise provided quality care to patients in need,” said U.S. Attorney Fajardo Orshan. “I commend the Assistant U.S. Attorneys from the Southern District of Florida, who worked tirelessly alongside their partners at the Department’s Criminal Division, the FBI and HHS-OIG to bring this case to justice. This massive fraud scheme, perpetuated in nursing and assisted living facilities in our South Florida communities, compromised the integrity of our local health care system. We remain united in our commitment to root out health care fraud and support quality patient care.”
“Philip Esformes is a man driven by almost unbounded greed,” said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Denise M. Stemen of FBI Miami. “The illicit road Esformes took to satisfy his greediness led to over $800 million in fraudulent health care claims, the largest amount ever charged by the Department of Justice. Along that road, Esformes cycled patients through his facilities in poor condition where they received inadequate or unnecessary treatment, then improperly billed Medicare and Medicaid. Taking his despicable conduct further, he bribed doctors and regulators to advance his criminal conduct and even bribed a college official in exchange for gaining admission for his son to that university. The FBI and its partners are constantly investigating health care fraudsters, big and small, who steal money from taxpayers at the expense of patients in need of quality medical care.”
“This largest ever healthcare fraud conviction highlights the awful toll criminal schemes take on federal health programs,” said HHS-OIG Special Agent in Charge Richmond. “Even beyond the vital dollars lost though, Esformes exploited and victimized patients by providing inadequate medical care and poor conditions in his nursing homes. Along with our law enforcement partners, we will continue the fight against such parasites.”
According to evidence presented at trial, from approximately January 1998 through July 2016, Esformes led an extensive health care fraud conspiracy involving a network of assisted living facilities and skilled nursing facilities that he owned. Esformes bribed physicians to admit patients into his facilities, and then cycled the patients through his facilities, where they often failed to receive appropriate medical services, or received medically unnecessary services, which were then billed to Medicare and Medicaid, the evidence showed. Several witnesses testified to the poor conditions in the facilities and the inadequate care patients received, which Esformes was able to conceal from authorities by bribing an employee of a Florida state regulator for advance notice of surprise inspections scheduled to take place at his facilities. The evidence further showed that Esformes used his criminal proceeds to make a series of extravagant purchases, including luxury automobiles and a $360,000 watch. Esformes also used criminal proceeds to bribe the basketball coach at the University of Pennsylvania in exchange for his assistance in gaining admission for his son into the university. Altogether, the evidence established that Esformes personally benefited from the fraud and received in excess of $37 million.
Esformes’s coconspirator, physician’s assistant Arnaldo Carmouze, previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud and is scheduled to be sentenced on April 10. Esformes’s coconspirator Odette Barcha also pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to violate the anti-kickback statute. Barcha was sentenced on April 3 to serve 15 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release. She was also ordered to pay $704,516.00 in restitution.
This case was investigated by the FBI and HHS-OIG and was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, under the supervision of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida with assistance from Florida Attorney General’s Office Medicaid Fraud Control Unit The case was prosecuted by Fraud Section Assistant Chiefs Allan Medina and Drew Bradylyons and Trial Attorneys James Hayes, Elizabeth Young and Jeremy Sanders, as well as Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Shipley and Dan Bernstein of the Southern District of Florida. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alison Lehr, Nalina Sombuntham and Daren Grove of the Southern District of Florida are handling the forfeiture aspects of the case.
The Fraud Section leads the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which is part of a joint initiative between the Department of Justice and HHS to focus their efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country. Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which maintains 14 strike forces operating in 23 districts, has charged nearly 4,000 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $14 billion.