Florida employee charged with SNF survey bribery in $1 billion fraud scheme

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A former employee of Florida's state healthcare agency has been charged with tipping off associates of embattled nursing home owner Philip Esformes about complaints and upcoming surveys in exchange for cash payments, according to local reports.

Esformes is currently being held in custody in connection with a record-setting $1 billion Medicare fraud scheme involving improper billing and patient placement at his more than 30 Miami-area nursing homes and assisted living facilities. In February, bribery charges were added to the case against Esformes, claiming he paid a state regulator to find out when surveyors would visit.

That regulator, Betha Blanco, has now been charged with allegedly providing Esformes and his associates with confidential information through her job as a regulatory specialist for Florida's Agency of Health Care Administration, the Miami Herald reported on Saturday.

Blanco, 66, reportedly gave the information to a local assisted living provider and her son through documents, phone calls and text messages over the span of five years. In return she received as much as $200 for each patient complaint and $3,000 for every notice of an upcoming survey.

The assisted living facility owner also kept a portion of those bribes, paid through two of Esformes' business associates. She also received confidential state information into her own assisted living facilities and some operated by others, the Herald reported.

Esformes then reportedly used the information provided by Blanco to address his facilities' deficiencies before surveyors arrived. His associates, brothers Gabriel and Guillermo Delgado, eventually turned film evidence of the information exchanges over to authorities to nab Esformes after they found themselves in legal trouble.

Blanco, who was arrested and charged last month, is currently free on $250,000 bond. She is scheduled for arraignment on Sept. 1. Esformes' trial is slated to begin in March 2018.