Bernard Bergman

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Bernard Bergman (September 2, 1911 – June 16, 1984) was an Orthodox Rabbi who was best known for his operation of a large network of nursing homes and his conviction of Medicaid fraud in 1976. Bergman turned an inheritance of $25,000 into an empire of nursing homes valued at $24 million.

Bergman was born to Shlomo Bergman and Gittel Leifer on September 2, 1911, in Romania.[1] Shlomo was the son of Rabbi Avraham Tzvi Bergman (1849–1918[2]), Rabbi of Yasinya, a small town in what was then Maramureş, Hungary, now part of Zakarpattya, Ukraine. Gittel descended from a long line of Hasidic rabbis, most famous of whom was her grandfather, Rabbi Mordechai Leifer of Nadvorna. A Grand Rabbi, thousands flocked to him in order to receive his blessing and bask in his holy presence.[citation needed] The family immigrated to the United States in the 1920s, living in Brooklyn. Bergman went to what was then Palestine. There, he attended the Hebron Yeshiva in order to pursue his religious studies. He received his rabbinic ordination from the academy's Dean, Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein, on October 22, 1933.[3] He married the former Anne Weiss in 1937. Back in New York City, he took a position as a rabbi at a nursing home on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and served as editor and publisher of the Yiddish-language daily The Jewish Morning Journal and head of Hapoel HaMizrachi.

He started to build his network of nursing homes in the 1960s,[4] with the former New York Cancer Hospital on Central Park West at 106th Street was acquired in 1955 and operated by Bergman as the Towers Nursing Home. The home became the center of federal and state fraud charges. Claims were made that patients in the home were abused and neglected, with residents testifying that they had not been given adequate heat and had been subjected to physical abuse and pest infestations. The site was closed in 1974 as a nursing home.[5]

A New York State Senate investigation in 1975 brought witnesses who testified of patients lapsing into comas due to untreated dehydration, bedsores caused by coarse sheets and failure to notify authorities of an epidemic of diarrhea. An unannounced inspection of a home found unsanitary conditions, including milk used a week past its expiration date and excrement on the floors in patient rooms. Bergman vigorously denied the charges, claiming that the homes he operated were well run.[6] However, this evidence was against nursing homes in general, and not specifically against the ones that Bergman was running.

In 1976, Bergman was sentenced to serve four months in a Federal correction center after his conviction on Medicare and tax fraud charges.[7] Under a plea bargain, he was supposed to not serve additional jail time. However, the lead prosecutor, Charles Hyne, compromised the plea agreement[citation needed] by publicly informing the media that he wanted the presiding judge (Judge Melia) to sentence Bergman to more jail time. Eventually, Bergman ended up serving an eight-month sentence for convictions on state offenses.[4]

The case was infamous for the media "witch hunt" that occurred.[citation needed] Major media outlets demonized Bergman, made personal attacks against his lawyers, and widely criticized the judge's sentence as too lenient. Prominent media sources, such as Time magazine, New York Times, and the New York Post, repeatedly "convicted" Bergman despite there being little evidence of Bergman's actual guilt.[citation needed]

"Bergman only controlled a handful of nursing homes, not the 117 attributed to him by the press; that the allegations of patient abuse were based on a report about conditions in nursing homes in general some eighteen years earlier; that the special prosecutor-after an investigation- "was unable to produce even a single current allegation against Dr. Bergman involving patient care"..." [8]

In February 1989, New York State's special nursing-homes prosecutor received payment of almost $1.4 million as the final payment of penalties and interest that Bergman was obligated to pay New York State after he pleaded guilty to Medicaid and tax fraud.[9]

Bergman died of a heart attack at Mount Sinai Medical Center on June 16, 1984, and had residences in both Israel and Manhattan at the time of his death, spending his time at both homes. His body was transported to Israel for burial.[4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Bergman, Bernard. U.S. Passport. 1984
  2. ^ Gross, Shmuel Yossef, and Cohen Yosef Y. "Iasin." The Maramaros Book. Tel Aviv: Beit Maramaros, 1983. 376.
  3. ^ Epstein, Moshe Mordechai. "Rabbinic Ordination." Letter to Bernard Bergman. 21 October 1933.
  4. ^ a b c Sullivan, Ronald. "BERNARD BERGMAN, NURSING-HOME FIGURE, IS DEAD", The New York Times, June 22, 1984. Accessed September 8, 2008.
  5. ^ Rasenberger, Jim. "Shadows on the Wall", The New York Times, January 23, 2005. Accessed September 8, 2008.
  6. ^ Staff. "Nursing Homes Under Fire", Time, February 3, 1975. Accessed September 8, 2008.
  7. ^ Hess, John L. "Bergman Given 4 Months; BERGMAN DRAWS A 4-MONTH TERM", The New York Times, June 18, 1976. Accessed September 8, 2008.
  8. ^ Dershowitz, Alan M., The Best Defense. p. 123
  9. ^ Roberts, Sam. "Metro Matters; Bergman Legacy: $1,376,032 Check And 110 Auditors", The New York Times, February 13, 1989. Accessed September 8, 2008. Accessed September 8, 2008.