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United States v. Esformes

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

July 1, 2019

United States of America
v.
Philip Esformes, et al., Defendants

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S POST-TRIAL MOTIONS FOR JUDGMENT OF ACQUITTAL AND NEW TRIAL

          Robert N. Scola, Jr. United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court upon Defendant Philip Esformes's Motions for Judgment of Acquittal (ECF No. 1324) and Judgment for a New Trial (ECF No. 1326). For the reasons set forth below, the motions are denied.

         I. Legal Standards

         Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(c), which governs motions for judgment of acquittal, “tests the sufficiency of the evidence against a defendant, and avoids the risk that a jury may capriciously find him guilty though there is no legally sufficient evidence of guilt.” United States v. Collantes, 2011 WL 2784266, at *4 (S.D. Fla. July 13, 2011) (Altonaga, J.) (citation omitted). Under Rule 29(c), “a district court should apply the same standard used in reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain a conviction.” United States v. Ward, 197 F.3d 1076, 1079 (11th Cir. 1999). “Any conflicts in the evidence are resolved in favor of the Government, and all inferences that tend to support the Government's case must be accepted.” Collantes, No. 09-21028, 2011 WL 2784266, at *4. The evidence need not exclude every reasonable hypothesis of innocence or be wholly inconsistent with every conclusion but guilt. United States v. Garcia, 447 F.3d 1327, 1334 (11th Cir. 2006). In short, the Court must determine whether, based on the evidence, a reasonable jury could find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Ward, 197 F.3d at 1079. That is to say, consider whether when “viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, would any rational trier of fact [find] all the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.” See United States v. Lopez, 403 Fed.Appx. 362, 370- 71 (11th Cir. 2010).

         Under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33, which governs motions for new trial, “the court may vacate any judgment and grant a new trial if the interest of justice so requires.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 33(a). The decision to grant or deny a criminal defendant's motion for new trial rests with the district court's sound discretion. See United States v. Rafferty, 296 Fed.Appx. 788, 796 (11th Cir. 2008). The trial court is not free, however, “to reweigh the evidence or set aside the verdict simply because it feels some other result would be more reasonable.” See Butcher v. United States, 368 F.3d 1290, 1297 (11th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). “The evidence must preponderate heavily against the verdict, such that it would be a miscarriage of justice to let the verdict stand.” See Id. (citation omitted). This ensures that the district court's judgment is not substituted for that of the jury. See id.

         II. Discussion

         A. Motion for Judgment of Acquittal

         At the close of the Government's case, Esformes sought judgment of acquittal pursuant to Rule 29. Following a hearing and argument by both parties, outside the presence of the jury, the Court granted in part and denied in part Esformes's motions. (ECF No. 11854.) At the close of the Defense's case, Esformes again renewed his motion for judgment of acquittal. Following a hearing and argument by the parties, the Court granted judgment of acquittal as to one count and denied relief on all other counts. (ECF No. 1209.) Esformes now seeks to renew the arguments made twice before this Court. Esformes makes no new arguments which would cause the Court to reconsider its prior rulings. Accordingly, Esformes's motion for judgment of acquittal is denied. See United States v. Mulherin, 529 F.Supp. 916, 923 (S.D. Ga. 1981), aff'd, 710 F.2d 731 (11th Cir. 1983) (holding that post-verdict renewed motion for judgment of acquittal raising the same arguments made during the ore tenus motion at trial would not “cause the Court to reconsider its prior rulings.”).

         B. Motion for New Trial

         Esformes raises four grounds in support of his request for a new trial. (ECF No. 1326.) The Court will address each in turn.

         1. Constructive Amendment of the Indictment

         Esformes claims that he is entitled to a new trial because the Government constructively amended the Indictment by introducing evidence of Medicaid and Medicare Rules and Regulations and presenting evidence regarding the conditions of the Esformes SNFs and ALFs. (ECF No. 1326 at 3-4.) The Government responds by arguing that the evidence regarding Medicaid and Medicare Rules and the information regarding the conditions at the Esformes facilities was relevant to the issues raised during trial. (ECF No. 1340 at 32-33.) The Court agrees with the Government.

         A constructive amendment “occurs when the essential elements of the offense contained in the indictment are altered to broaden the possible bases for conviction beyond what is contained in the indictment.” United States v. Keller, 916 F.2d 628, 634 (11th Cir. 1990). The Government did not constructively amend the indictment by relying on evidence of Medicare and Medicaid regulations or introducing evidence of the conditions at the Esformes facilities. The Indictment alleged that medical providers must abide by Medicare law and regulations in order to submit payments and receive reimbursements. As a provider, Esformes promised to abide by those rules and regulations. Therefore, reference to those rules and regulations was relevant to establish Esformes's intent. Moreover, the Court instructed the jury that “you cannot convict based on the violation of a guidance document.” (ECF No. 1216 at 32.)

         The Government's introduction of evidence related to the conditions at the Esformes facilities did not constitute a constructive amendment of the Indictment either. This evidence was relevant to establish Esformes's intent to bribe Bertha Blanco to tip him off about AHCA inspections. It was also relevant to establish the type of facilities and services that Medicare and Medicaid were paying for. The Court also instructed the jury that Esformes “is not charged with providing substandard care to patients at his facilities. Negligence by management or ...


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