When Philip Esformes walked out of prison in December 2020, he’d spent four and a half years behind bars, the majority of which were in solitary confinement. He reportedly weighed about 130 pounds. He was, in many ways, a broken man. But Esformes’ luck was changing: He had recently received clemency from former President Donald Trump, giving him the chance to rebuild his life after paying a debt to the country.
That fortune has quickly soured.
In a move that defies historical precedent, the Department of Justice under President Joe Biden is using a legal loophole to reprosecute Esformes’ case—raising grave questions about double jeopardy, the absolute power of the clemency process, and the weaponization of the criminal legal system against politically expedient targets.
A former executive overseeing a network of skilled nursing and assisted living facilities, Esformes was arrested in 2016. The prosecutors, who were found to have committed substantial misconduct throughout the case, alleged he paid doctors under the table to send patients his way and subsequently charged Medicare and Medicaid for unnecessary treatments. The government held him without bond in the years leading up to his trial, placing him in solitary. He was ultimately found guilty of money laundering and related charges, as well as bribing regulators to give him notice of upcoming inspections so he could attempt to obscure shoddy conditions at those facilities.
But Esformes was not convicted of the most serious charges leveled against him. The government failed to convince a jury, for example, that he committed conspiracy to commit health care fraud and wire fraud. So his 20-year sentence—handed down by U.S. District Judge Robert N. Scola of the Southern District of Florida—may appear grossly disproportionate to his convictions.
Until you realize the judge explicitly punished Esformes for charges on which the jury hung.