A part-time Chicagoan sentenced to 20 years in prison for orchestrating a $1 billion Medicare fraud scheme was among the people whose terms were commuted late Tuesday by President Donald Trump.
Philip Esformes ran a network of 30 nursing homes and assisted-living facilities in Illinois and Florida. He was convicted by a federal jury in Florida in 2019 of 20 charges including money laundering, receiving health care kickbacks, bribery conspiracy and obstruction of justice.
Prosecutors described the case as the biggest-ever Medicare fraud when the charges were filed in 2016.
At his sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Robert Scola called the case one of a violation of trust of “epic proportions” and said Esformes was “somewhat of an enigma” because of his obvious success combined with such a large criminal operation.
Esformes delivered a tearful 16-minute speech apologizing for his actions and for the embarrassment he caused his family. Friends testified about Esformes’ ample charitable giving and other good works.
”I’ve lost everything. I lost everything I loved and cared about with the utmost intensity,” he said. “There’s no one to blame but myself. I’m disgusted by what I did.”
A hospital administrator and a physician assistant and other co-conspirators pleaded guilty and some testified against Esformes during a seven-week trial.
The witnesses described how Esformes would direct them to pay doctors in cash, using code words like “fettuccine.” They said the purpose of the kickbacks was to keep his facilities at full capacity.
The scheme grew increasingly sophisticated and soon they were inflating invoices that accounted for kickbacks and bribes, according to testimony.
A state health regulator said she was paid to provide a schedule of unannounced inspections to Esformes’ collaborators, saying she knew it was for their boss.
Defense attorney Howard Srebnick said Esformes was not motivated by greed.
”There was no need for greed. He wanted to prove that he could be successful,” Srebnick said.