Citing Trump’s release of Esformes, medical aide in Miami fraud case wants out of prison, too
January 14, 2021
BY JAY WEAVER THE MIAMI HERALD
On Christmas Eve, just after President Donald Trump erased the 20-year prison sentence of Miami Beach healthcare mogul Philip Esformes, a physician assistant who admitted accepting bribes from him in exchange for providing patients sought the same lenient treatment from a federal judge.
Arnaldo Carmouze, 61, who pleaded guilty to healthcare fraud and is serving a prison sentence of four years and nine months, asked the Miami judge for compassionate release based not only on his diabetic health issues amid the coronavirus pandemic but also on the commutation of Esformes’ sentence to time served, or four and a half years.
Carmouze’s defense attorney argued that he had already served one-third of his sentence, proportionally more than Esformes was held behind bars until Trump commuted his sentence on Dec. 22. Lawyer Orlando do Campo added that Carmouze completed a substance-abuse program at the Federal Correctional Institution in South Miami-Dade County. Also, he said Carmouze’s medical license was revoked by the state of Florida, so he can longer be a “danger to the community,” as federal prosecutors portrayed him.
Despite the changed circumstances, U.S. District Judge Robert Scola rejected Carmouze’s request — the second time he denied the former Miami physician assistant’s bid for compassionate release, saying “none of the additional information tips the scales in favor of release.”
“He has still served far less than 50% of his sentence and he has already received a benefit of an earlier release based upon his completion of the RDAP [substance-abuse] program,” Scola wrote in his Dec. 28 decision. “While the court is not dismissive of his neuropathies [diabetic-related nerve damage], they do not pose a life-threatening situation warranting release.”
The defendant’s lawyer, do Campo, expressed his regrets about the outcome. “I was obviously disappointed,” he said Wednesday. “I believed that my client was an ideal candidate for compassionate release.”
Do Campo added that since his client’s latest petition for early release, Carmouze has tested positive for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus. He learned the results Monday.
Esformes, 52, was immediately released from prison following the president’s commutation and is now living in his $3.4 million home on exclusive North Bay Road in Miami Beach. He was convicted in April 2019 on an array of bribery, money laundering and obstruction of justice charges related to a $1 billion Medicare fraud scheme. When he was arrested in July 2016, federal prosecutors said Esformes was the mastermind of the biggest healthcare corruption case in the nation’s history.
Esformes, who had owned a chain of assisted-living and skilled-nursing facilities, was sentenced to 20 years and ordered to pay $5.3 million to the taxpayer-funded Medicare program after the grueling trial prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami and Justice Department. The case prosecutors in both those agencies were unaware of Trump’s commutation of Esformes’ sentence until it was announced a few days before Christmas, according to sources familiar with the president’s action.
The clemency order left “intact and in effect” Esformes’ restitution to Medicare, his three-year probation, and “all other components of the sentence,” including a $39 million forfeiture judgment imposed by Judge Scola that the convicted felon still owes to the U.S. government.
Esformes’ defense attorney, Howard Srebnick, did not respond to a request for comment on whether his client had paid any part of the restitution or forfeiture amount.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office and Justice Department declined to comment about the president’s commutation.
Esformes was among 20 people — mostly political cronies of the president implicated in scandals that marred his first term in office — who were granted a full pardon or commutation of all or part of their sentences on Dec. 22.
In 2019, Esformes went to trial alone. Two of his key co-conspirators — Carmouze, the physician assistant who steered Medicare patients to his facilities as well as Larkin Hospital, and Odette Barcha, a former Larkin administrator who also received bribes from Esformes in exchange for patients — had pleaded guilty. Barcha was originally sentenced to one year and three months, but she applied for compassionate release and it was granted. She ended up serving four months.
Carmouze’s attorney, do Campo, cited her sentence reduction to show the disparity between his client’s punishment and hers, to no avail.
Several other healthcare associates charged with Medicare fraud in related cases had also pleaded guilty and cooperated with federal prosecutors, including some who testified against Esformes.
Justice Department prosecutor Allan Medina said Esformes not only exploited patients to line his pockets at his chain of 16 assisted-living and skilled-nursing facilities, but “corrupted” the whole Medicare system in his zeal to fill patient beds without providing actual care.
Jurors, however, did not reach a verdict on the main count — that Esformes had conspired to defraud the Medicare program for the elderly and indigent.
The deadlocked verdict on the main conspiracy count against Esformes came as a surprise because jurors found Esformes guilty of bribery and paying and receiving kickbacks to generate Medicare patients for his facilities as well as those of other healthcare operators.
At trial, convicted healthcare operators and an ex-Ivy League basketball coach testified that Esformes paid them and various doctors hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to buy and sell patients as well as to get Esformes’ son into the University of Pennsylvania.
Esformes himself made $38 million from Medicare and Medicaid payments between 2010 and 2016.