The owner of multiple Miami-area assisted living and skilled nursing facilities, accused in 2016 of orchestrating a $1 billion healthcare fraud scheme, scored a major victory in federal court Friday when a judge threw out key evidence against him and said that Justice Department investigators were trying to “obfuscate the evidentiary record,” the Miami Herald reported.
The judge did not dismiss the indictment, however, nor did she disqualify the prosecutors as attorneys for Philip Esformes had requested, according to the newspaper.
As McKnight’s Senior Living previously reported, the federal government in part alleged that Esformes would move skilled nursing residents to his assisted living facilities when they were at or near the end of Medicare’s 100-day post-hospital benefit period for skilled nursing. “After the required 60-day waiting period between consecutive admissions to an [sic] SNF, a physician or physician assistant would readmit the beneficiary to the hospital, re-initiating the cycle,” according to a federal motion.
Meanwhile, the government alleged, Esformes provided access to assisted living residents “for any healthcare provider willing to pay a kickback,” even though many of the services for which they were paid were not medically necessary or were never provided.
Esformes was charged with conspiracy, obstruction, money laundering and healthcare fraud, and his federal trial is expected to begin in January.
On Friday, Magistrate Judge Alicia Otazo-Reyes of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida suppressed correspondence and other evidence she said was improperly obtained and handled by federal prosecutors and FBI agents after a 2016 search of Eden Gardens, an Esformes assisted living facility where his company’s attorney had an office. The search had yielded 70 boxes of seized documents. The suppressed documents were protected under attorney-client privilege, the magistrate said.
Also in her 117-page ruling, Otazo-Reyes threw out as evidence a recording secretly made by two alleged co-conspirators of Esformes who were cooperating with the government. The key evidence in the obstruction charge against Esformes had been improperly obtained, she said.
The Justice Department and Esformes’ defense attorneys have 14 days to file objections to the judge’s decision.