By Brian Bandell – Senior Reporter, South Florida Business Journal
December 23, 2020
Philip Esformes will be released from federal prison after President Donald
Trump commuted his 20-year sentence for Medicare fraud.
The $1 billion fraud a federal jury convicted the 52-year-old Miami resident of
committing through bribery, money laundering, and kickbacks was one of the largest
Medicare crimes committed. He allegedly orchestrated the crimes through a network of
skilled nursing homes and assisted living facilities from 1998 to 2016. Esformes won’t serve much of his 20-year term, as he was sentenced in September 2019 and reportedly serving his time in a low-security prison in Miami.
However, the federal government’s $44.2 million penalties against Esformes and its
actions to seize his assets will remain. Esformes-controlled companies have been forced to sell a handful of residential and health care properties in South Florida in order to pay the federal penalties.
A statement from the White House said former Attorneys General Edwin
Meese and Michael Mukasey supported commuting Esformes’ prison sentence. In
addition, Meese and former Attorneys General John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzalez,
plus attorney Ken Starr, filed statements in support of Esformes appealing his
conviction on the basis of prosecutorial misconduct for violating attorney-client
Since going to prison, Esformes has been devoted to prayer and repentance and is in
declining health, the White House stated.
In a May 7 motion for release pending appeal of his case, Esformes’ attorneys stated he has a long history of upper- and lower respiratory problems, including asthma, and is particularly vulnerable to Covid-19.
Attorney Howard Srebnick, who represents Esformes, said the appeal of his conviction
was still pending when Trump made his decision. The legal team will still work to
overturn the conviction and challenge the financial penalties at the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the the11th Circuit.
“The magistrate judge wrote a 113-page report detailing the prosecutorial misconduct
that we exposed,” Srebnick said. “The White House press release demonstrates that the
president was deeply disturbed by the prosecutors’ invasion of the attorney-client
The May 7 motion stated the government recorded Esformes’ conversations with
informants in 2015 without a prior warrant and despite knowing the parties had a joint defense agreement. That recording picked up Esformes’ conversations with his defense attorneys. When the government searched Esformes’ offices in 2016, it allegedly found documents belonging to his longtime business attorney, and many of those documents should have been privileged.
Fort Lauderdale attorney Michael B. Cohen, a former assistant U.S. attorney who now
works in federal criminal defense said it’s “very unusual” for a sentence in such a large fraud case to be commuted before the U.S. Court of Appeals rules on the conviction and for the decision to be made relatively soon after the conviction, instead of years later.
“It seems out of the ordinary, and I’m sure the professional prosecutors who handled
this case would be upset if there wasn’t a good basis for it,” Cohen said.