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Concerned that a convicted healthcare mogul freed by then-President Donald Trump might flee the country, Justice Department prosecutors urged a federal judge Tuesday to confine Philip Esformes to his South Florida home with an electronic ankle monitor and impose a $10.5 million bond to ensure his appearance for a new trial.
But their request was effectively rebuffed, at least for now.
U.S. District Judge Robert Scola instead granted a request by Esformes’ defense team to postpone the government’s bond proposal until mid-August, when it will be taken up again.
Justice Department prosecutors recently said they will pursue unresolved charges from Esformes’ healthcare fraud trial in 2019, when a federal jury deadlocked on the main conspiracy charge and five other offenses but found him guilty of 20 corruption-related counts. Scola sentenced Esformes to 20 years in prison and ordered him to pay $5.3 million in restitution to the taxpayer-funded Medicare program and a $38 million forfeiture fine.
“The trust that he broke was of epic proportions,” Allan Medina, the lead prosecutor in the $1 billion healthcare fraud case against Esformes, said at Tuesday’s hearing.
Just before Christmas, Trump commuted Esformes’ prison term to time served, allowing him to go free after 4 1/2 years behind bars. But the president left intact his convictions, financial penalties and probation.
To date, the federal government has seized about $30 million in assets from Esformes, who was accused of running a massive Medicare fraud scheme by bribing medical professionals at Larkin Hospital and elsewhere to refer patients to his chain of skilled-nursing and assisted-living facilities in Miami-Dade.
Scola, the judge, noted that all of that confiscated money would be lost if Esformes were to flee to Israel or another foreign country to evade his new trial, which will be scheduled early next year. On Monday, Scola posted a brief statement on the court docket that was left with his staff by an anonymous male caller who inquired about the bond hearing. The caller then said: “Be careful — he is looking to run to Israel.”
But Scola stopped short of considering pre-trial detention at a federal facility because the prosecutors did not request it. He also expressed reservations about burdening Esformes with a multimillion-dollar bond with the government already holding so much of his wealth.
Esformes’ defense team tried to put the notion that he was a “flight risk” to rest when they said he is appealing his convictions for bribery, money laundering and obstruction of justice from the original healthcare fraud trial in the hope of clearing his criminal record and recovering his seized assets.
Moreover, Esformes told the judge that he spends his days with his ailing father, a rabbi and wealthy businessman, at his Boca Raton home. He said he also visits regularly with his three children at their Miami Beach home and devotes himself to studying and praying at local synagogues. He is also pursuing new business opportunities here and in his former hometown of Chicago.
Esformes, 52, told the judge that he has been rebuilding his familial and spiritual life since his release from prison, while complying with the conditions of his probation.
“That’s all I’m doing every day and night,” Esformes told Scola, as his trial attorney, Howard Srebnick, stood by his side. “I am pushing and pushing to be better and better.”
Esformes received clemency from Trump a few days before Christmas, which led to his immediate release. The president’s commutation blindsided Justice Department prosecutors not only because Esformes’ fraud case was the biggest in the history of the Medicare program but also because his trial was so bitterly fought over months.
Trump’s commutation only affected Esformes’ prison sentence — not his conviction or the half-dozen charges that the jury was unable to reach verdicts on.