Owner of nursing home where eight died has history of fraud allegations

Hospital involved in alleged billion dollar scheme

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – The owner of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills -- where eight elderly residents have died after an air conditioning outage caused by Hurricane Irma – is no stranger to controversy.

Jack Michel, a physician who serves the president of Larkin Community Hospital in South Miami, was involved a massive fraud scheme at Larkin more than a decade ago, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Michel and other Larkin owners paid $15.4 million in 2006 to settle health care fraud claims filed against them by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and State of Florida.

At the time, Michel was investigated by a plethora of agencies, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of Inspector General, the Florida Medicaid Fraud Unit, and the FBI.

Michel allegedly received kickbacks for patient admissions in a Larkin fraud scheme and allegedly conspired to admit patients to the hospital for medically unnecessary treatment. The feds alleged those patients came from assisted living facilities owned by Michel and other physicians.

One of Michel’s co-defendants in the fraud case was wealthy Miami businessman Philip Esformes who is under federal criminal indictment for what federal prosecutors describe as a billion dollar Medicare fraud allegedly involving Larkin Community Hospital. Also named in that indictment is Odette Barcha, a former Larkin employee.

Despite the prior fraud case and 2006 settlement, Michel was able to keep his medical license and remain in charge at Larkin, which in recent years has been expanding its reach.

Michel purchased the Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills, where the eight Irma-related deaths occurred, in 2015. The nursing home’s previous CEO, Karen Kallen-Zury, was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison after her 2013 conviction in a $67 million Medicare fraud scheme, a case federal prosecutors described as a "massive criminal fraud conspiracy involving fake documents .. fake patients fake services and bribes."

The Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills was incorporated in June 2015 and the hospital announced last year that it had purchased Palm Springs General Hospital in Hialeah for $40 million.

Attempts to contact Michel for comment have been unsuccessful so far.