Crime

Celtics coach pleads guilty to accepting bribes from a wealthy Miami Beach exec

Jerome Allen, former head basketball coach at the University of Pennsylvania and now an assistant with the Boston Celtics.
Jerome Allen, former head basketball coach at the University of Pennsylvania and now an assistant with the Boston Celtics. AP File

A former head basketball coach at the University of Pennsylvania who is now with the Boston Celtics has pleaded guilty to accepting thousands of dollars in bribes from a wealthy Miami Beach businessman accused of paying him off to get his son into the Ivy League school.

Jerome Allen pleaded guilty to a bribery-related money laundering charge on Wednesday in Miami federal court and is cooperating with prosecutors in the case against healthcare executive Philip Esformes. Allen will be sentenced on March 11.

Allen, 45, who once played at Penn and as a journeyman guard in the NBA, is accused of accepting about $75,000 in bank wire transfers, luxury hotel stays, jet travel and limo transportation from Esformes, the executive who is charged with making the illegal payments and is also the main defendant in a massive Medicare fraud case.

In a statement filed with his plea deal, Allen admitted to accepting $18,000 in bribes from Esformes. As part of that agreement, Allen will repay the $18,000 in addition to a $200,000 fine, according to his defense attorney, Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. Also, a source told the Boston Herald that Allen will be suspended for about two weeks.

Esformes was charged two years ago with masterminding the nation’s biggest Medicare fraud racket totaling $1 billion and faces trial on Jan. 28. As part of that same case, he was charged anew in July with conspiring to pay bribes to Allen so his son would be accepted as a Penn basketball recruit for the fall class of 2015. Although the son, Morris Esformes, was admitted to the university, he never made the basketball team.

Allen resigned as the Penn head basketball coach in March 2015 after a series of losing seasons and was hired as an assistant by the Boston Celtics.

The healthcare executive is accused of paying the coach so that he would designate his son as a “recruited basketball player” to support his application to Penn in 2014.

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Philip Esformes’ lawyer has denied any bribery scheme, saying his client’s son was qualified to get into Penn on his own academic and athletic merits. Defense Attorney Howard Srebnick told the Miami Herald that Morris Esformes was a standout “A” student and basketball point guard at Hebrew Academy in Miami Beach.

Srebnick said Esformes hired Allen when his son was a sophomore in high school to help him improve his game, “as many parents do when their kids show athletic promise.”

He added that Esformes’ son has maintained a nearly 3.6 GPA, made the Dean’s List at Penn in the last semester and plans to graduate from the Wharton School with the class of 2019.

But the indictment accused Esformes of paying a series of bribes to Allen, who was not identified in the indictment, and of tapping Medicare reimbursements to do it.

Esformes arranged for a limousine to pick up the coach at the swank Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach and bring him to the JW Marriott Marquis in downtown Miami to watch his son play to assess his basketball skills in 2013, according to the indictment. Esformes also arranged for the limo to bring the coach to his home on North Bay Road in Miami Beach, where he has a regulation basketball court behind a second home that he owns next door.

Esformes picked up Allen’s tab at the Fontainebleau Hotel, totaling $2,008.72, according to the indictment.

Esformes then paid the coach $53,000 in bribes in three separate wire transfers between July and December in 2014, the indictment said. The healthcare executive made those transfers “through various concealed methods,” such as directing an administrator who worked for him to send the payments through bank accounts that were not in Esformes’ name.

Esformes also paid $19,549.56 for a jet to fly himself, his son and the coach from Philadelphia to Miami in March 2015.

The latest federal charge against Esformes marks the second time that he has been accused of paying bribes.

Esformes, 49, who is being held without bond at the Miami Federal Detention Center, was previously charged with paying a state regulator $100,000 in bribes for tipping him off to on-site inspections and patient complaints at his network of skilled-nursing and assisted-living facilities in South Florida.

Esformes, who once made $10 million in a single year from his healthcare business, has hired a high-priced team of defense lawyers. They are seeking to have the Miami federal indictment thrown out, while accusing prosecutors in the Justice Department and U.S. Attorney’s Office of misconduct during the Medicare fraud investigation.

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