In Our Opinion: Focus case doesn’t feel like justice
The news that two executives of the former Focus Otsego nursing home pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges on Wednesday left us feeling a little flat.
Joseph Zupnik, majority owner of CCRN Operator LLC, the corporation that held the ownership certificate for Focus Rehabilitation and Nursing Center at Otsego, and Daniel Herman, a high-level manager, both pleaded guilty in town of Otsego court to second-degree endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person, a misdemeanor. The charge was in reference to a 94-year-old woman who was left in a recliner for nearly 41 hours in 2016.
A felony complaint, filed by the state Attorney General’s office, alleged that Focus staff did not provide the woman with required care, feeding and other services, and that she developed a pressure sore as a result.
Zupnik and Herman originally faced charges of first-degree endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person, a felony, and two counts of second-degree endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person, a misdemeanor.
Each defendant also was also charged under Public Health Law with three counts of willful violation of health laws, a misdemeanor.
Under terms of the plea agreement, both men will be required to pay a fine and perform community service. Town of Otsego Justice Gary Kuch will announce the severity of those penalties during a sentencing hearing, set for Oct. 10. State Prosecutor Kathleen Boland mentioned during Wednesday’s plea proceeding that $1 million will be paid back to Medicaid by the corporation, CCRN.
The state’s separate eight-count felony complaint against CCRN will be taken to the Otsego County Court on Sept. 24.
The complaint laid out a pattern of behavior that promoted profit over care during CCRN’s management of the facility, which has since changed hands.
“Upon taking ownership and control of the home’s operation in October 2014, Zupnik, Herman and CCRN cut staff payroll, cut staffing, and cut other necessary services and supplies needed to provide safe and adequate care to more than 200 individual residents who were in the care of Focus through at least November 29, 2016, when Focus was designated as a Special Focus Facility by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services,” the complaint dated May 24 said.
The defendants received but disregarded many communications from senior staff “that residents were at risk for harm,” plus warnings from outside sources, according to the Attorney General’s Office.
Four staff members were previously convicted by guilty pleas, admitting to neglect and falsification of records.
A misdemeanor conviction, coupled with a fine and a term of community service, seems like a slap on the wrist. A clawback of $1 million from the corporation is significant, but it does not promote individual accountability.
We can take some comfort from the likelihood that Zupnik and Herman are out of the health care business.
Jerome Allen allegedly took bribes to recruit a student-athlete. How good was the player to begin with?
Stats, interviews, and recruiting rankings from Morris Esformes’ career show the big picture
In the immediate aftermath of to designate Morris Esformes as a recruited student-athlete and increase his odds of admission, questions have arisen around one key issue: the qualifications of Esformes as a basketball recruit.
The indictment against Morris’ father, Philip, alleges that Morris “would not have been designated as a ‘recruited basketball player’ had it not been for the kickback and bribe payments” that Philip provided to Allen. Philip’s attorney, Howard Srebnick, has rigorously defended the Esformes family from such allegations, stating that Morris Esformes was qualified to get into Penn on his own academic and athletic merits.
Srebnick, who graduated from Penn in 1985, told , “[Morris] scored more than 150 points higher on his SAT than I did, and I cannot dribble a basketball with either hand, much less sink a three-point shot.”
As the situation unfolds, a glaring question remains: would Morris Esformes have been recruited by Penn men’s basketball without any intervention from his father? The Daily Pennsylvanian looked to Esformes’ past in search of answers.
In 2015, Esformes graduated from RASG Hebrew Academy in Miami, Florida before being admitted to Penn.
While he was never listed on the Penn men’s basketball roster, he appeared in a by the athletic department about the Class of 2019 recruits. Additionally, it is known that Esformes , strongly suggesting that Esformes received designation as a “recruited student-athlete.”
oth RASG Hebrew Academy Dean of Academic Affairs Avi Bossewitch and Penn’s Admissions Department did not respond to interview requests.
Various other key figures connected to Esformes also did not comment. Besides Morris Esformes and Jerome Allen, the following people either declined or did not respond to interview requests: two of Esformes’ teammates from his senior season of high school basketball, Morris’ high school head coach, the then-head coach of a rival team in RASG Hebrew Academy’s district, a Jewish Hoops America reporter, three former Penn men’s basketball assistants who were at Penn during Morris’ high school career, and head coaches at two other Division I schools that Future150 reported that Morris had been interested in. Another coach of a Division I school Esformes reportedly was interested in responded that he had never heard of him “as a recruit, or otherwise.”
Esformes has a , though ESPN’s Class of 2015 recruiting rankings did not list him on their , meaning that his player ranking was lower than two stars out of five. According to ESPN, players who have two stars “are overmatched versus the better players in the nation. These players have weaknesses that will be exposed against top competition, but have the ability to develop into solid contributors at the mid-major Division I level.”
Of the three other players in Esformes’ recruiting class at Penn to have graduated high school in 2015, all three appeared on their state’s respective list. However, it is not unprecedented for Penn to take chances on recruits who have yet to earn such credentials on a national level. Penn men’s basketball rising seniorsMax Rothschild and Tyler Hamilton, who both graduated high school in 2014, did not appear on ESPN’s state leaderboards in 2014.
Esformes’ high school, RASG Hebrew Academy, had a significantly weaker basketball program than the schools most Penn recruits come from. Although Esformes had solid statistics — , he averaged 15.5 points and 5.0 assists per game as a senior — his school’s low strength of scheduleduring his senior season contributed to it having a national ranking of 7,775, according to MaxPreps’ computer rankings.
By comparison, among the active Penn men’s basketball rising seniors, Jake Silpe’s Cherry Hill East (NJ) team was ranked 736th nationally during his senior year, Hamilton’s Greater Atlanta Christian squad was 255th, and Jackson Donahue’s and Collin McManus’ Northfield Mount Hermon (NH) was 217th. Only Max Rothschild’s University (IL) squad was anywhere near RASG Hebrew Academy, at 3,245.
Another potential indicator of Esformes’ skills could be his postseason honors. In both his junior and senior years of high school, he was named to the Jewish Hoops America honorable mention team.
Of the combined 11 seniors who were chosen over Esformes for JHA’s first, second, or third team in 2014-15, none ever played D-I basketball. The only player of any age to eventually make a D-I roster from a JHA team was Cornell’s Bryan Knapp, who was a high school sophomore at the time.
Additionally, Esformes finished his senior year ranked 17th in scoring out of players on Miami-Dade County’s lower-division teams, encompassing Division 2A schools through 5A. Online searches revealed that only five of the 16 players above him have been on a Division I roster at any point, and no one scoring at or fewer than Esformes’ 15.5 points per game was ever on a D-I roster.
“I mean, I didn’t think he was ever Division I necessarily caliber,” Adam Barnes, a basketball trainer who worked with Esformes in 2013, said about the student. “He wasn’t gonna get a scholarship probably. But when you’re an academic kid like he was, a lot of places will take you as a walk-on, you know, just to help out,” he added.
“When I heard he was actually going to Penn, I didn’t think it was even anything to do with basketball.”
Miami exec bribed basketball coach to get son into Ivy League school, indictment charges
A wealthy Miami Beach businessman at the center of a massive Medicare fraud case has been charged with paying bribes to former University of Pennsylvania basketball head coach Jerome Allen so his son could be accepted as a “recruited” player to the Ivy League college.
In an indictment, Philip Esformes was charged anew on Friday of using proceeds from defrauding the taxpayer-funded Medicare program to pay about $75,000 to Allen, now an assistant with the Boston Celtics, in bank wire transfers, hotel rooms, private jet travel and limo transportation.
The indictment does not identify the university, coach or student-athlete, only that the college is in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A Justice Department prosecutor, prompted by a question from a Miami federal judge, disclosed on Friday that the college is Penn, the basketball coach is Allen, and the student is Esformes’ son, Morris. He entered the university in the fall of 2015 but never made its basketball team.
Morris Esformes, Hebrew Academy Class of 2015
It is not clear from the indictment, which expands upon the $1 billion Medicare fraud case that led to Philip Esformes’ arrest two years ago, whether other people may face charges, including Allen. The former Penn player and NBA journeyman resigned as the Penn head basketball coach in 2015 after a series of losing seasons and was hired as an assistant by the Boston Celtics.
Allen could not be reached for comment. Representatives for the University of Pennsylvania and the Celtics declined to comment on Saturday.
According to the indictment, Esformes paid the coach so that he would designate his son as a “recruited basketball player” to support his application to Penn in 2014.
Philip Esformes’ lawyer denied any bribery scheme, saying his client’s son was qualified to get into Penn on his own academic and athletic merits. Defense Attorney Howard Srebnick told the Miami Herald on Friday that Morris Esformes was a standout “A” student and basketball point guard at Hebrew Academy in Miami Beach.
Srebnick, a Penn grad himself, said “[Morris] scored more than 150 points higher on his SAT than I did, and I cannot dribble a basketball with either hand, much less sink a three-point shot.”
He added that Esformes’ son has maintained a nearly 3.6 GPA, made the Dean’s List at Penn in the last semester and plans to graduate from the Wharton School with the class of 2019.
In a June 2015 interview with College Hoops Daily, Morris said he started playing basketball in middle school and his private coach and trainer was Demetrius McDaniels, whose stepbrother is Miami Heat superstar Dwyane Wade. At the time, the aspiring college point guard spoke about why he chose Penn over other Ivy League universities that he wanted to attend.
“I got a lot of looks from Cornell and Columbia, but I chose Penn rather early for a couple of reasons,” Esformes told CHD. “I want to go into business and the Wharton Business School is great. I also had a great relationship with Coach Jerome Allen. I saw how much he loved the school and just fell in love with it over a couple of visits.“
Srebnick said Philip Esformes hired Allen when his son was a sophomore in high school to help him improve his game, “as many parents do when their kids show athletic promise.”
But the indictment accused Esformes of paying a series of bribes to the coach, who is not identified in the indictment, and of tapping Medicare reimbursements to do it.
Miami judge tosses key evidence, accuses feds of ‘misconduct’ in Medicare fraud case
Federal prosecutors have lost a major battle in the nation’s biggest Medicare criminal case as a judge threw out key evidence in the $1 billion fraud indictment against wealthy Miami Beach businessman Philip Esformes while finding “misconduct” by the Justice Department’s investigative team.
Magistrate Judge Alicia Otazo-Reyes “found the government’s attempt to obfuscate the evidentiary record to be deplorable.” But in her scathing, 117-page ruling issued late Friday, she stopped short of dismissing the indictment and disqualifying the team of Justice Department prosecutors and FBI agents who were involved in the 2016 search of Esformes’ North Miami assisted-living facility, where his company’s lawyer had an office.
Esformes’ defense attorneys urged the judge to take those harsh measures, saying the search at Eden Gardens ALF was tainted because hundreds of the seized documents in the 70 boxes carted away by agents were protected under attorney-client privilege. Instead, Otazo-Reyes chose to suppress the protected correspondence as well as other evidence that was improperly obtained and handled by federal prosecutors and agents.
The fallout from the magistrate judge’s ruling does not derail the Miami federal trial on tap for January, but it could lead to an internal probe by the Justice Department of the initial investigative team and its possible replacement by new prosecutors and agents. The judge’s decision also might give Esformes, 49, and his high-priced defense team greater leverage at trial or in negotiating a favorable plea deal. If convicted at trial, Esformes, who has been detained since his arrest two years ago, runs the risk of being sentenced to prison for the rest of his life.
The Justice Department is reviewing the magistrate judge’s decision and declined to comment. Esformes’ defense attorneys (Howard Srebnick, Roy Black, and Jackie Perczek) also did not want to comment. Both sides must file any objections to the magistrate’s report and recommendations within 14 days with U.S. District Judge Robert Scola, who is presiding over the case. Scola has final say.
The defense lawyers’ significant victory in the pretrial period is a continuation of their strategy in Medicare fraud cases of attacking the integrity of the Justice Department’s investigations in recent years. The defense team has used that tactic to win two other Medicare fraud cases.
Justice Department lawyers Elizabeth Young and Drew Bradylyons, who had to testify during the magistrate judge’s hearings last fall, took a jab at the defense’s strategy in court papers.
“As [Esformes] is aware, his counsel has built a veritable cottage industry out of levying meritless allegations of prosecutorial misconduct,” prosecutors Young and Bradylyons wrote last year.
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California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation this month requiring nursing home owners to provide more information about “insider” companies that may siphon scarce resources away from nursing residents through nursing homes’ inflated payments for supplies, rents, and services.
The legislation authored by Assemblyman Wood (D-Healdsburg) stemmed from a state audit of nursing homes earlier this year that focused on Brius Healthcare, California’s largest nursing home company.
Wood and Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) requested the audit following concerns raised by the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW), which published a report showing that during 2015 Brius nursing homes purchased $67 million in goods and services from 65 “insider” companies owned by Brius CEO Shlomo Rechnitz and his relatives.
In 2015, Rechnitz’s “insider” companies – including paper landlords – stood to gain as much as $12 million by charging inflated rents to Brius nursing homes, according to NUHW’s report. This money, says NUHW, should have been spent on care and services for nursing home residents who often lack adequate staffing, support and care.
The state audit, published in May 2018, found that the California Department of Public Health failed to perform necessary inspections or issue timely citations for substandard care. In addition, California State Auditor Elaine Howle found the reporting rules for nursing homes failed to show whether operators are profiting from business deals with “insider” companies owned by nursing home executives.
To improve transparency of these related-party transactions, Wood’s bill (Assembly Bill 1953) requires nursing home owners to disclose whether they have “an ownership or control interest of 5% or more in a related party … that provides any service to the skilled nursing facility.”
Under those circumstances, the nursing home must disclose all of the services provided by the related-party company, the number of people who provide the service, and any other information requested by state officials.
If the nursing home receives goods, fees, and services worth $10,000 or more per year from a related-party company, then this “insider” company must give state officials a copy of its profit and loss statement as well as data on caregiver staffing levels inside the nursing home.
The bill “will now ensure transparency and reporting that will allow us to make sure that these companies are not being used to generate excessive profits for the owners of these facilities on the backs of the residents,” Wood told Skilled Nursing News.
Here’s the latest about some of the substandard care found in nursing homes controlled by ultra-Orthodox multi-millionaire Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz. From Briuswatch.org: One of Brius Healthcare’s largest nursing homes is “woefully understaffed,” forcing residents to go weeks without a shower and sit in their own excrement for hours waiting for assistance, according to a recently […]