One of the dozens of people President Donald Trump pardoned just hours before he left office today was a doctor who failed to report a high-dollar, long-running health care fraud at a Long Beach hospital.
Dr. Faustino Bernadett owned Pacific Hospital in Long Beach from 2005 to 2010, and—while he originally wasn’t involved in day-to-day operations—he learned by 2008 that one of the doctors at the hospital, Michael D. Drobot, had been paying illegal kickbacks to medical workers who would steer certain spinal surgery patients to Pacific Hospital, according to court documents.
Over the course of the scam, the conspirators used $30 million in sham contracts to compensate doctors, chiropractors and others who referred certain spinal surgery patients to Pacific Hospital, which ultimately submitted $900 million in fraudulent billing that was mostly paid for by California’s worker compensation system, according to federal prosecutors.
Bernadett pleaded guilty in 2019 to failing to report the scam and was later sentenced to 15 months in federal prison.
Trump’s pardon for Bernadett points out he wasn’t alleged to be involved in the underlying crime itself.
In a plea agreement, however, Bernadett admitted to authorizing the scheme to continue once he found out about it. He later sold the hospital back to Drobot, whom he’d originally purchased it from, according to court papers. The hospital is now known as College Hospital.
“This conviction is the only major blemish on Dr. Bernadett’s record,” the White House said in a statement attached to the pardon.
“Notably, [Bernadett] was not part of the underlying scheme itself, and unaffiliated himself with the hospital shortly thereafter.”
It also pointed to extensive charity work by Bernadett, saying he’s helped battle COVID-19 by procuring protective equipment and advising hospitals on preparations for the pandemic.
“President Trump determined that it is in the interests of justice and Dr. Bernadett’s community that he may continue his volunteer and charitable work,” the statement said.
At the time he was pardoned, Bernadett had not yet begun serving his 15-month prison term.
He’d been ordered to report to the federal prison Lompoc, but a judge agreed to delay the start of his sentence because Bernadett feared catching COVID-19 at the facility where four inmates had already died from the disease, according to court records.
Bernadett is 66 and suffers from a chronic intermittent cough, hypertension and high cholesterol among other things, his lawyers pointed out.
“As a result of his age, medical complications, and lack of good health, Dr. Bernadett is at high risk of contracting the virus and suffering lethal or permanent, devastating, and life-compromising consequences,” his attorneys wrote in court papers.
The delay was set to expire on Feb. 26, at which point Bernadett would have had to surrender himself at the prison.
Drobot, who admitted to orchestrating an even wider-ranging scheme that included more than $50 million in bribes, is serving over five years in prison for conspiracy and paying illegal kickbacks, according to authorities.