A federal judge has denied a motion by former American Senior Communities CEO James Burkhart to throw out his felony fraud convictions, ruling that his law firm’s conflict of interest did not adversely affect his defense in the $19.4 million fraud case.
Burkhart was sentenced in 2018 to 9½ years in prison for his leading role in a massive fraud, kickback and money-laundering conspiracy that culminated in dramatic law enforcement raids of his home and offices.
The senior care company leader and others were found guilty of audaciously funneling money to themselves to fund luxury purchases over a six-year period. Burkhart pleaded guilty to three federal felony offenses, including conspiracy to commit fraud, conspiracy to violate the healthcare anti-kickback statute, and money laundering.
Burkhart in 2019 had sought to have his convictions tossed on the grounds that his legal team from the Indianapolis-based firm Barnes & Thornburg failed to disclose a “profound conflict of interest.” It had performed extensive legal and lobbying work for one of the principal victims in the case, Health & Hospital Corp. of Marion County, which owns more than 70 facilities operated by ASC.
Indiana Southern District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt, however, wrote in a May 12 decision that while the law firm had a conflict, it did not adversely affect the firm’s representation of Burkhart.
“The record conclusively reflects that B&T’s advice to Burkhart was based on the evidence against him, including the very damaging recorded conversations and potential testimony of his co-defendants who had already pled [sic] guilty,” Pratt said in her ruling issued last week. The law firm, she noted, also had sought lower sentencing guideline calculations and a lower restitution amount after Burkhart pleaded guilty. She also points out that three mock juries had “consistently convicted him.”
Pratt also denied an evidentiary hearing in the case, saying that Burkhart is not entitled to relief.
Burkhart has the right to appeal the decision. He is serving his sentence at a minimum security prison in Montgomery, AL, and is scheduled for release in 2026.