Trump granted clemency to Medicare fraudsters before promising to end abuse of the welfare program

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In an attempt to clean up comments he made this week about “cut” social benefit programsFormer President Donald Trump has promised in recent days that he would reduce spending on Social Security and Medicare by combating waste and fraud in those programs.

However, a review of Trump’s record shows that in the final months of his presidency, he used his clemency powers to help several people convicted in major Medicare fraud cases, including commuting the sentence of a man who The Justice Department had described him as having “orchestrated one of the largest health care fraud schemes in United States history.”

In his last year in office, Trump commuted the sentences of at least five people who collectively presented nearly $1.6 billion in fraudulent claims through Medicare or Medicaid.

Among them was Judith Negron, the former owner of a mental health company in the Miami area who was sentenced in 2011 to 35 years in prison for his role in the presentation $205 million in fraudulent Medicare claims and was ordered to pay more than $87 million in restitution. Triumph commuted his sentence in February 2020.

Trump also granted clemency that year to Daniela Gozes Wagnera Houston woman who was sentenced in 2019 to 20 years in prison for helping to falsely invoice more than $28 million in Medicare and Medicaid claims for medical tests that were never performed or were unnecessary. Those tests supposedly took place in 28 test facilities They turned out to be empty offices, and prosecutors said Gozes-Wagner went so far as to hire “seat warmers” in those offices, who were instructed to notify him if Medicare investigators arrived.

In December 2020Trump commuted the sentence of Philip Esformes, who had been condemned in 2019 “for his role in the largest health care fraud scheme ever charged by the Department of Justice, involving more than 1.3 billion dollars in fraudulent claims to Medicare and Medicaid for services that were not provided, were not medically necessary, or were acquired through the payment of kickbacks,” the department said.

Esformes was sentenced to 20 years in prison, but was released after serving approximately 4½ years, after Trump granted him clemency. The White House noted At the same time, while in prison, Esformes was “dedicated to prayer” and “in deteriorating health.” Esformes was photographed Presenting and dancing at his daughter’s lavish wedding. days after.

Last month, Esformes pleaded guilty again to Medicare fraud after being retried on unresolved charges that were not included in Trump’s pardon order. As part of a plea deal, Esformes was sentenced to time he had already served.

In it last days of his presidencyTrump granted clemency to Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist who had been sentenced to 17 years in prison after being convicted for his role in defrauding Medicare $42 million; and John Estin Davis, a Tennessee health care executive who had been sentenced the previous year to 42 months in prison after being convicted for his role in filing 4.6 million dollars in fraudulent Medicare claims.

Louis Saccoccio, executive director of the National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association, called Trump’s pardon orders “disappointing” and noted that the cases were not minor and likely required a lot of time and resources for prosecutors to investigate.

“These are complicated cases and it will typically take months, if not, in many cases, years — maybe two or three years — to bring these cases to trial,” Saccoccio said. “Obviously, you want to send a message regarding health care fraud that it will not be tolerated.”

Saccoccio said that in addition to the financial consequences of Medicare fraud, many cases result in patient harm. Saccoccio cited the case of Melgen, the Florida ophthalmologist, who prosecutors said performed and billed Medicare for unnecessary injections and laser treatments on his elderly patients after falsely diagnosing them with macular degeneration.

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump has said for years that he will protect popular programs, breaking with conservatives who argue that the United States should cut benefits to keep the programs financially solvent.

Ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, for example, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) publicly unveiled a plan that would have raised taxes and cut Social Security and Medicare benefits, a proposal that was quickly rejected by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has previously suggested eliminating Social Security and Medicare as federal benefit programs and instead become programs approved by Congress annually as discretionary spending.

President Biden has repeatedly used these types of Republican proposals to paint the entire party as wanting to cut Social Security and Medicare, including recently. during his State of the Union address and in his budget proposal for 2025.

Trump’s claims that he would address waste and abuse in entitlement programs came after an interview Monday with CNBC’s “Squawk Box” in which he was asked if he had changed his perspective on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

“First of all, there is a lot that can be done in terms of entitlements, in terms of cuts, and also in terms of theft and mismanagement of entitlements,” Trump responded. “Tremendous mismanagement of rights. “There’s a huge amount of stuff and a lot of things you can do.”

The comments gave Biden new ammunition in their 2024 election rematch. Trump’s campaign said he was talking about reducing “waste and fraud” as Biden’s team attacked.

On Wednesday, just after winning enough delegates to sure Republican presidential nomination: Trump told the conservative website Breitbart that he would not do anything to jeopardize Social Security or Medicare.

“There are so many things we can do,” Trump said. “There are so many cuts and so much waste in so many other areas, but I will never do anything to hurt Social Security.”

As president, Trump proposed some budget cuts to safety net benefits like a Social Security program that helps workers with disabilities. administration officials saying in a budget proposal that they would cut spending by testing “new approaches to increasing workforce participation.”

Hannah Knowles contributed to this report.

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