In April 2019, the 12-person federal jury in Miami found Esformes guilty of most of the 26 charges brought against him in an indictment filed after his arrest in 2016. Jurors, however, did not reach a verdict on the main count — that Esformes had conspired to defraud the Medicare program for the elderly and indigent — even though they found him guilty on a money-laundering charge and expressly stated on the verdict form that the illegal proceeds came from health care fraud.
At his sentencing in September 2019, both federal prosecutors and the trial judge described Esformes as a cunning thief of taxpayer money.
“This is not a mistake,” Allan Medina, a Justice Department prosecutor, said at Esformes’ sentencing. “Day after day, this defendant chose to steal, this defendant chose to bribe.”
Scola, the judge, called Esformes’ scheme to generate thousands of Medicare patients for his chain of 16 assisted-living and nursing-home facilities in Miami-Dade “unmatched in our community, if not our country” and said he “violated (the system’s) trust in epic proportions.”
Trump’s commutation of Esformes’ sentence
Esformes was among 20 people — mostly political cronies of former President Trump implicated in scandals that marred his first term in office as well as the Republican Party — who were granted a full pardon or commutation of all or part of their sentences. But in many ways, Trump’s commutation of Esformes’ sentence was an outlier of sorts because he did not appear to have any political relationship to the president over his 30 years in the health care business.
Esformes has never written a check to support Trump, according to Federal Election Commission records. If anything, Esformes, his former wife, Sherri, and his father, Morris, have been donors to Democratic Party candidates. Esformes and his ex-wife gave $100,000 combined in 2012 to support President Barack Obama’s reelection. Sherri also gave $17,600 in 2010 to support the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. That same year Philip Esformes Inc. gave $10,000 to the Florida Democratic Party, according to Florida campaign finance records.
A statement issued by the White House noted that Esformes’ commutation was “supported” by former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese, who served under President Ronald Reagan, and Michael Mukasey, a former attorney general who served under President George W. Bush, as well as by former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, who also served in the Bush administration.
The statement also highlighted that Esformes’ federal appeal of his 20-year sentence was backed by Meese, former Attorney General John Ashcroft and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who both served in the Bush administration. Kenneth Starr, the late GOP lawyer best known as an independent counsel who investigated President Bill Clinton, also backed the appeal. The statement alluded to “challenging his conviction on the basis of prosecutorial misconduct” by lawyers in the U.S. attorney’s office and Justice Department relating to an FBI search and seizure of records from the office of the healthcare executive’s lawyer in one of his Miami-Dade facilities.
Esformes’ defense team argued that the search of those documents violated “attorney-client privilege” between the businessman and his company lawyer, and that the prosecution’s evidence was tainted and its case should be thrown out.
One of Esformes’ original trial attorneys, Howard Srebnick, said after the commutation that the convicted defendant’s appeal mirrored his petition to the president. In a statement, Srebnick alluded to a Miami magistrate judge’s 113-page report “detailing the prosecutorial misconduct that we exposed” before trial — a decision that was later overturned in part by Scola, the district judge who found that federal prosecutors and agents did not act in “bad faith” in the Esformes case.
Ultimately, however, the controversial issue over the FBI’s gathering of privileged documents from the office of Esformes’ company lawyer became a moot point for Scola because prosecutors agreed not to use any of that evidence at his trial.
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