A Florida state healthcare official was charged with accepting bribes in exchange for helping a nursing home owner who’s accused of coordinating a $1 billion Medicare and Medicaid fraud scheme keep his license.
Federal prosecutors in Florida say that Bertha Blanco is facing federal criminal charges in a broad investigation that federal authorities say is the nation’s biggest health fraud case, according to a report in The Miami Herald.
Defendant in Charge of Nursing Home Inspections
Blanco was earning about $31,300 a year managing the inspections of Florida nursing homes. She became involved with the inspections at nursing facilities owned by Philip Esformes, who owns dozens of Miami-Dade nursing facilities, along with facilities in Miami, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
Prosecutors said in the criminal complaint filed against Blanco that she took tens of thousands of dollars in cash in exchange for telling Esformes about violations in his homes so he could correct them prior to state inspections. Blanco allegedly took the bribes and provided patient and inspection records to a third-party, who delivered the information to Esformes. With her help, Esformes was able to retain his license and continue to bill the federal government for questionable patient services, the criminal complaint alleged which if accurate is clear Medicare/Medicaid fraud.
Blanco had worked at the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration for nearly 30 years. She is the first of the agency’s employees ever charged with taking bribes, The Miami Herald reported.
Trial Set for SNF Owner
Esformes is currently being held in federal custody as a result of the Medicare/Medicaid fraud. He’s scheduled to go to trial in March of next year. Attorneys for Esformes claim that the intermediaries working with Blanco acted without his knowledge. Two of the intermediaries made plea deals and are expected to testify against Esformes. The two assisted investigators in the indictment of Esformes by taping a cash transaction that prosecutors said was earmarked for bribes.
The nursing home owner is accused of using his 20 nursing facilities to file false Medicare and Medicaid claims for services that weren’t necessary for approximately 14,000 patients. Federal prosecutors say that his healthcare network and other co-conspirators billed $1 billion for fraudulent services from 2009 to last year when he was arrested.
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