The federal government is seeking an injunction to halt the sale of assets by nursing home operators in western Pennsylvania that it says does not “pass the smell test.”

The US Department of Labor filed what attorney Alejandro Herrera called “an extraordinary remedy” in asking a federal judge to stop the owners of Comprehensive Healthcare Management Services from selling seven facilities in a $56 million deal, per reporting from the Pittsburgh Tribune. Court filings indicate that Ephram Lahasky, a principal owner of Comprehensive Healthcare, holds an ownership stake in Kadima Healthcare Group Inc., which is trying to buy the homes. 

“This, to me, doesn’t pass the smell test, your honor,” Herrera said during last week’s hearing. “This is an extraordinary remedy, and we did not bring it lightly.”

This is one of several cases in which Lahasky and others at Brighton Rehab and Comprehensive Healthcare Management are involved. Last year, US Attorney Cindy K. Chung and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced charges of healthcare fraud against owner and CEO Sam Halper, of Miami Beach, FL; Brighton Director of Nursing Eva Hamilton; Michelle Romeo, a regional manager with oversight over nurses at the facilities; and Director of Social Services Johnna Haller. They stand accused of improperly handling the response to COVID-19 as well as negligence and mismanagement prior to the pandemic.

In 2018, the US Department of Labor sued Comprehensive Healthcare over violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act. In September 2022, the agency and Comprehensive entered into a $15 million settlement in that case, but two months later, Comprehensive reneged on the deal, the Tribune reported. At that time, Comprehensive said several of its 15 nursing and rehabilitation facilities in Western Pennsylvania were “on the brink of collapse.”

In December, New York Attorney General Letitia James sued Lahasky, Halper and David Gast, accusing them of defrauding the government of more than $18 million while understaffing The Villages of Orleans Health and Rehabilitation Center, a 120-bed facility in northwestern New York, and neglecting residents. The lawsuit aims to remove Lahasky, Gast and Halper from ownership and managerial duties; shut down admissions until staffing levels rise to “appropriate standards”; make owners pay for a receiver, financial monitor and healthcare monitor; return any wrongfully gained funds from the fraud; and repay the state and federal government for investigation costs.

In May, James’ office opposed efforts from attorneys for The Villages to delay proceedings. 

In the Pennsylvania case, Herrera said in a court filing that the sale of seven properties — totaling 747 beds — appeared to be an effort to block the Department of Labor from collecting on revenue owed from unpaid labor claims. The facilities involved in the sale are The Grove at Irwin, The Grove at Harmony, The Grove at Washington, The Grove at Latrobe, The Grove at New Wilmington, The Grove at New Castle, and The Grove at Greenville. The federal government filed for a temporary restraining order on Aug. 29. 

“The secretary respectfully submits that the timing of defendants’ sale … and the lack of an arm’s-length relationship between the buyers and sellers raises a significant concern that defendants seek to dissipate assets that will be subject to a judgment entered in this matter,” Herrera said.

The Tribune reported that Comprehensive Healthcare’s attorneys argued that the Secretary of Labor cannot prevent a sale that could satisfy a future debt. There are outstanding questions about whether Lahasky would profit from the sale.

McKnight’s Long-Term Care News attempted to reach Comprehensive Healthcare for comment but was told no one was available for on the phone and that no one had an email address so as to receive questions.