U.S. in Hot Pursuit of South Florida Medicare Fraud Fugitives By Tod Aronovitz | 11/19/13 | 0 Comment

‘They can run, but they can’t hide.’ That’s the message from federal agents charged with the task of locating and catching South Florida’s Medicare fraud fugitives.

Where do these criminals like to abscond? Cuba, evidently, which is known as a favorite destination of choice, according to a Miami Herald article published November 9, which also reported that Mexico, the Dominican Republic and other Latin American countries are all popular options of escape.

Most of the 150 fleeing Medicare scammers, who have yet to be caught, are Cuban-born immigrants. Law enforcement has been surreptitiously chipping away at those defendants who skipped town to dodge their federal trials.

Over the past six years, 30 fugitives have been rounded up, and the pace is picking up, according to Randall Culp, the FBI special agent who supervises healthcare fraud investigations in South Florida. In the article, he said that agents have nabbed 10 fugitives this year alone, many being found on the run or in Miami International Airport when they try to return to the U.S.

Helping with the task are foreign countries with U.S. extradition treaties. Several have assisted in the arrests and returns of fugitives to the United States. Judges have also begun to reject bond requests before trial, stemming the flow of fugitives to Cuba and Latin America.

The FBI has maintained a list, compiled by Special Agent Bryan Piper, of names of Miami and South Florida Medicare fraud fugitives. In addition, the bureau, assisted by Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General, also has a list of 90 additional people, who were charged by sealed indictment and are also suspected of having fled the region. As a result, these defendants are not aware that they are wanted in Miami, and agents don’t want to tip them off.

The article also recounted some Medicare fraud offenders who have been apprehended including:

  • Carmen Gonzalez, five years on the lam, originally was charged in an $11 million Medicare fraud scheme at one of the Benitez brothers’ clinics, St. Jude Rehab Center, and suspected of assisting eight of their other HIV-therapy clinics in the Miami area. She slipped back into the U.S. via the Mexican border, but made the critical mistake of reapplying for a Florida driver’s license.
  • Alcides Garcia, wanted for his role in a $10.7 million medical equipment ring, went to a shipping company in the Canary Islands to have personal belongings sent from Miami. Although possessing a Mexican passport, Garcia’s heavy Cuban accent made the shipping company’s owner suspicious, and after searching on Google, found Garcia’s name posted as a wanted fugitive on Medicare fraud charges. The FBI in Miami was given an anonymous tip, and the Spanish National Police arrested him on a provisional federal warrant. Garcia was eventually sentenced to eight years.
  • Magda Luz Lavin, who was arrested and extradited from Bogota, Colombia, to Miami, originally walked away from her 2006 healthcare fraud trial in Miami just before the jury convicted her of operating a $5 million HIV-therapy racket. She was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Even so, some big names are still out there, including Jorge Emilio Perez, who was charged last year with financing a complex money-laundering ring that moved more than $30 million in stolen Medicare proceeds from South Florida through Canada into Cuba’s banking system, and the notorious Benitez brothers—Carlos, Jose and Luis.

Fleeing while their indictments were under seal, the Benitez brothers traveled to Cuba where they currently have a safe haven. The FBI cannot track them down, or any other fugitives in Cuba for that matter, because of the two nations’ sticky relationship. According to the brothers’ federal indictment, Medicare paid their HIV-therapy fraud scheme almost $84 million between 2001 and 2004.

However, the brothers have lost most of their properties and assets they acquired in the Dominican Republic before they fled to Cuba. In 2011, Dominican authorities and the U.S. government agreed to share seized properties and frozen bank accounts, adding up to an estimated $37.5 million. So far, the U.S. has collected $14 million.

How to Report Miami Medicare Fraud

Healthcare or medical billing employees who have inside knowledge of questionable Medicare billing practices can file a confidential legal claim under the False Claims Act. By acting as a “whistleblower” in what is known as a “qui tam” lawsuit, a private party may collect between 10 to 30 percent of the amount recovered, depending on how the case is prosecuted.

ARONOVITZ LAW: Miami Whistleblower / Qui Tam Law Firm

The Miami Qui Tam law firm of ARONOVITZ LAW routinely works with Miami whistleblowers to document Medicare fraud and other forms of fraud against the government. Contact Miami Whistleblower / Qui Tam lawyer Tod Aronovitz to discuss a case.