Among the more than 140 people receiving pardons or having their sentences commuted by President Trump on his last day in office were several with healthcare ties, including practitioners.
Paul Behrens, Thaddeus Bereday, Peter Clay, Todd Farha, William Kale
Trump pardoned the five former executives of WellCare Health Plans, who were found guilty of defrauding Florida’s Medicaid program. “The defendants in this case falsely and fraudulently schemed to submit inflated expenditure information in the company’s annual reports … in order to reduce the WellCare HMOs’ contractual payback obligations for behavioral health care services,” the Justice Department said.
The White House labeled their case “a case study in overcriminalization…. Notably, there was no evidence that any of the individuals were motivated by greed.”
Trump pardoned Bernadett, an anesthesiologist and pain management physician, who was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison last year for continuing to operate a kickback scheme after he bought Long Beach (Calif.) Pacific Hospital. Bernadett authorized phony contracts to shield more than $30 million in illegal kickback payments for physicians to steer spine surgery patients to the hospital, the Justice Department said. That generated more than $900 million in fraudulent bills that were primarily submitted to the state’s worker compensation system. Bernadett pleaded guilty to concealing a felony.
The White House reported that “he was not part of the underlying scheme itself, and unaffiliated himself with the hospital shortly thereafter.” But the Justice Department stated, “Bernadett authorized the continued use of [the previous hospital owner’s] sham contracts to incentivize surgical referrals to his hospital.”
During the pandemic Bernadett has been “procuring PPE and medical supplies for nurses; advising hospitals on expanding patient capacity and continuing prenatal services; identifying care facilities for first responders and the homeless,” according to the White House statement. Bernadett gave up his medical license in 2019.
Robert S. Corkern
Trump pardoned Corkern, 61, an emergency medicine physician in Mississippi convicted of conspiracy to defraud the U.S., theft or bribery of federal funds, and making false statements in 2012, according to the Mississippi Clarion Ledger. Corkern among others tried to use federal funds for personal use. He was fined $400,000, and sentenced to three years of supervised release and two years of home confinement.
John Estin Davis
Trump commuted the remainder of Davis’ 42-month sentence for running a $4.6 million kickback scheme. Davis the former CEO of Nashville, Tenn.-based Comprehensive Pain Specialists (CPS), was convicted in 2019 on one count of conspiracy to defraud and seven counts of violating the anti-kickback statute. “Notably, no one suffered financially as a result of his crime and he has no other criminal record,” according to the White House statement, which said he has served four months in prison. Davis remains a defendant in a $50-million whistleblower lawsuit against CPS and some of its executives for defrauding government insurance programs via a lab testing scheme.
John Duncan Fordham
Trump pardoned Fordham, a former Georgia pharmacy owner convicted of healthcare fraud in 2005 for defrauding community institutions in Augusta. Fordham was sentenced to 52 months in prison for kicking back funds to a state representative in exchange for a “lucrative” contract with a community mental health center, according to The Associated Press. A judge dismissed a conspiracy charge against him, according to the White House.
Trump pardoned Harkonen, in his late 60s, who was convicted of wire fraud in 2009 after he electronically shared a press release that “willfully” overstated the benefits of a drug made by his biotech company, InterMune. The release detailed a clinical trial of interferon gamma-1b (Actimmune) in 330 patients with a rapidly fatal lung disease.
Trump commuted the 17-year sentence for the South Florida ophthalmologist convicted of Medicare fraud in 2017. Melgen allegedly conspired with Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) to falsely bill millions of dollars to Medicare, according to the Miami Herald. Melgen was also tried for corruption along with Menendez, although that case ended in a hung jury and prosecutors did not retry the pair. Melgen served about four years in prison. Menendez supported Melgen’s commuted sentence, according to the White House.
Trump pardoned Moss, who “acknowledged conspiring to pay kickbacks to obtain referrals” for Analytical Diagnostics Lab of Brooklyn, N.Y., in the late 1990’s, according to the Associated Press. Moss pleaded guilty to a tax charge after reporting just over $2,000 of taxable income in 1992, when he had earned about $500,000.
The Trump White House said Moss has become a “vital member of his community” who is committed to national philanthropic efforts, such as St Jude’s Hospital for Children, Breast Cancer Awareness and the Colon Cancer Foundation. In his Connecticut community, he has contributed to Danbury Hospital and Ann’s Place, a community-based cancer support center.
But the president of Ann’s Place said they have no record of Moss’ contribution. “We have no Glen Moss in our system at all,” she said. “I don’t know where they got that information.”
Trump pardoned Nahas, a New Jersey surgeon who pled guilty to obstructing a healthcare investigation and served one month in prison in 2003. He was also fined $20,000, according to the Cherry Hill Courier Post. His billing practices were under federal investigation when he committed the obstruction, but no wrongdoing was found.
William “Ed” Henry
Henry, a former Alabama state representative involved in a so-called pill mill scheme, pleaded guilty in 2019 to one count of theft of government property as part of a deal with prosecutors. He had originally faced an array of charges including paying kickbacks and healthcare fraud. The Trump White House offered no rationale for the pardon except that newly elected Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) recommended it.
President Trump had issued many pardons and commutations prior to Wednesday as well. Several of those, too, were for individuals connected to healthcare:
Trump pardoned Costa, a former dentist who now works as a developer. Costa pled guilty to healthcare fraud in 2008 after he exaggerated how many oral surgeries he had conducted. Costa was ordered to pay $300,000 in fines and restitution, and put on probation. Costa has not worked as a dentist since 2001, leaving the field after the FBI interviewed him about bills he sent to insurers concerning about 50 patients. Costa was a friend and business partner of Ben Carson, MD, Trump’s Housing and Urban Development secretary, which became an issue during Carson’s 2016 presidential bid.
Trump commuted the remainder of his 20-year sentence stemming from Medicare fraud. Esformes, 52, was convicted in 2019 of paying bribes, money laundering, and other charges after his Miami-Dade County chain of assisted-living and nursing-home facilities orchestrated a scheme to generate thousands of Medicare patients. Esformes’ federal appeal of his sentence was supported by three former Republican attorneys general and Kenneth Starr, the Republican lawyer who led the investigation resulting in President Bill Clinton’s impeachment. Esformes personally earned $38 million in Medicare and Medicaid payments from 2010 until his assets were frozen upon his 2016 arrest.
Trump commuted the sentence of Gozes-Wagner, a Houston woman convicted of Medicare fraud in 2017. Gozes-Wagner conspired with others to falsely bill Medicare and Medicaid for millions of dollars’ in medical tests that were either not necessary or not actually conducted. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison and ordered to pay $15.2 million in restitution.
Trump pardoned Kanter, who was convicted in 2011 of “mail fraud related to illegal Medicare reimbursements.” Kanter was sentenced to 366 days in prison and fined millions of dollars. He founded the company Dr. Comfort, selling special shoes and shoe inserts for diabetics. The inserts did not meet Medicare requirements, but he sold them to Medicare beneficiaries and his company was reimbursed by the federal government anyway.