Nursing home mogul Philip Esformes wept and pleaded for mercy 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.

In arguing for a 30-year sentence, prosecutors said his years long bribes-for-patients schemes involved the corruption of medical professionals and government regulators, and entailed grievous injuries to a massive number of elderly patients. Many of his younger, drug-addicted patients spent the daylight hours wandering the streets of Miami while he collected government payments for services that were never delivered, prosecutors said.

“Phillip Esformes used deceptive and calculated means to orchestrate a fraud of the magnitude that we have not seen before,” Medina said. “People who needed to get better, who wanted to get better, they had no shot.”

“His fraud involved thousands of patients, 16 nursing homes, the systematic payment of bribes, a complex web of bank accounts, and brazen obstruction of justice to try to prevent it all from coming to light,” prosecutor Elizabeth Young wrote in a sentencing memo filed with the court this week.

Prosecutors said Esformes should be forced to pay $207 million in restitution to Medicaid and Medicare; attorneys for Esformes sharply questioned that amount in court Thursday.
In one of Esformes’ crimes, prosecutors said, he used some $300,000 in stolen Medicare and Medicaid proceeds to bribe the head men’s basketball coach at the University of Pennsylvania to admit Esformes’ son to the school.

The dozens of nursing facilities Esformes ran with his father and business partner Morris Esformes for decades earned millions of Medicaid and Medicare dollars annually despite repeated federal law enforcement probes and Chicago Tribune investigations alleging substandard care and incidents when disabled patients were assaulted by fellow residents.

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