Federal prosecutors — aiming to take down the alleged perpetrator of one of the largest Medicare fraud schemes in history — may have been dealt a blow on Friday.
That’s because Magistrate Judge Alicia Otazo-Reyes has thrown out key evidence in the government’s case against Miami Beach businessman Philip Esformes. She railed against prosecutors’ alleged misconduct in trying to take down the former senior care leader. She “found the government’s attempt to obfuscate the evidentiary record to be deplorable,” the Miami Herald reported.
Otazo-Reyes’ “scathing” remarks were tied to the FBI and Justice Department’s 2016 search of Esformes’ North Miami assisted living facility. The businessman’s attorneys have argued that the search was “tainted,” according to the newspaper, because documents seized should have been protected by attorney-client privilege. The judge has ruled to suppress that evidence, along with a recording of a conversation with Esformes, obtained through a wiretap.
Esformes currently is 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, as McKnight’s has reported. In early 2017, bribery charges were added to the case against Esformes, claiming he paid a state regulator to find out when surveyors would visit.
The Miami Herald noted that Otazo-Reyes’ ruling does not derail the federal trial, which is set for January. However, it could set off an internal probe by the DOJ of the original investigative team, and cause a switchover to new prosecutors. Plus, Esformes, 49, and his legal team also may derive leverage from the ruling to negotiate a more favorable plea deal., observers said. If convicted, he could face life in prison.