New York state attorney general sues Woodmere nursing home owner


Benjamin Landa is facing a lawsuit filed by state Attorney General Letitia James claiming he and a dozen other people misappropriated more than $22 million.

James is focused on the Woodmere resident’s Woodbury facility Landa is involved with — Cold Spring Hills Center for Nursing & Rehabilitation — which she claims a group, including Landa, redirected $15.3 million from Medicaid and Medicare programs into the organization that owns it.

James is suing Cold Spring Realty for financial fraud, claiming the group pocketed $22.5 million through three illegal schemes with Medicaid and Medicare money that was intended to care for Cold Spring residents.

James also alleges Cold Spring paid $5.2 million to several other entities for what was described as “consulting,” and that another $2 million was part of a fraudulent promissory note scheme.

“Cold Spring Hills’ owners put profits over patient care, and left vulnerable New Yorkers to live in heartbreaking and inhumane conditions,” James said, in a release, adding its owners allegedly received $157 million from Medicaid programs and $88 million from Medicare between 2017 and 2021.

Named in the suit along with Landa were: Cheskel Berkowitz, Rochel David, Esther Farkovitz, Leah Friedman, Joel Leifer, Avi Philipson, Bent Philipson, Chaim Zahler, Chaya Zahler, David Zahler, Jacob Zahler, Joel Zupnick, and the estate of Deborah Philipson. Many of the defendants are related to each other, while Bent Philipson owns 68 nursing homes nationwide, according to the suit, while Landa owns 100.

Landa’s attorney, Howard Fensterman, did not return calls seeking comment. But representatives for the businessman say that while he is an investor in the Cold Spring Hills property in Woodbury, he doesn’t own the nursing home.

Landa also owns the Five Towns Premier Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Woodmere which is not part of the lawsuit.

The working relationship between Landa and Philipson dates back to 1989, according to published reports, when they founded the Woodmere-based SentosaCare, at the time the state’s largest nursing home network.

SentosaCare built several nursing homes on Long Island as well as in New York City and upstate, including the Woodmere Rehabilitation & Health Care Center, where it reportedly invested $90 million in 2015.

Philipson went on in 2019 to found Philosophy Care, a firm that provides services to nursing home facilities providing Alzheimer’s disease care, wound care, physical therapy and stroke recovery.

It was around that time — beginning in 2017 — staffing at Cold Spring Hills was cut, James said. That directly led to patient abuse, including the neglect of regular feeding and cleaning.

The attorney general also says it may have also contributed to a high number of deaths at the height of the coronavirus pandemic when more than 160 residents were lost between March and June 2020 — nearly 100 of them from Covid-19 complications.

James’s lawsuit claims the ownership group used more than a dozen different companies to divert money intended to fund care at the nursing homes.

James is not calling for Cold Spring Hills to shut down. However, she is calling for the removal of both Philipsons, Liefer, Farkovits, David and Friedman from having any role at the facility.

She wants to prohibit the nursing home from admitting new residents until staffing levels are at appropriate levels, and install a monitor to supervise the facility’s financial and health care operations.

All of those would require a judge’s order.
“From Buffalo to Long Island, every nursing home in New York must abide by laws that require the best care for New Yorkers,” James said.

This is the third suit James has filed in the past six weeks for financial fraud and abuse of residents in a New York nursing home, the second on Long Island. She filed suit against Fulton Commons Nursing Home in East Meadow last week.

James also filed suit over the Villages of Orleans Health and Rehabilitation Center in upstate Albion.

The attorney general claims Landa and 11 others stole nearly $19 million from the facility between 2015 and 2021. That suit also lists allegations of abuse, mistreatment and over-the-top staff cuts.