Informacion economica sobre Cuba

Posted on Monday, 06.18.12

Medicare fraud

Feds in Miami: Millions stolen from Medicare wound up in Cuban banking


Miami federal prosecutors say they uncovered an international

money-laundering operation that moved millions in stolen Medicare

dollars to Havana's banks.

By Michael Sallah

In an unprecedented case, federal prosecutors have charged a Miami man

with engaging in a massive money-laundering operation that moved

millions stolen from the federal Medicare program into Cuban banks.

Prosecutors say Oscar Sanchez, 46, was a key leader in a group that

funneled $31 million in Medicare dollars into banks in Havana — the

first such case that directly traces money fleeced from the beleaguered

program into the Cuban banking system.

Most of the money moved through an intricate web of foreign shell

companies before ending up in Cuba, to avoid being detected in the

United States, said investigators.

"We're obviously dealing with a very sophisticated network," said Ron

Davidson, an assistant U.S. attorney, during a court hearing on Monday.

The federal investigation marks the first time prosecutors have brought

a cash-for-Cuba case in the ongoing battle against Medicare fraud in

South Florida, which leads the nation in dollars fleeced from taxpayers.

Despite arguments from Sanchez's lawyer on Monday that his client was

not a flight risk and has family ties to Miami, U.S. Magistrate Jonathan

Goodman ordered the defendant be held without bail.

"The fact that [he] has made more than 78 trips out of the country over

the years" was a major reason, the judge said.

For years, Sanchez was a player in a global money-laundering

organization that spanned from Montreal to Havana, prosecutors said.

Though no one else has been charged so far, prosecutors say Sanchez, who

owned a check-cashing business, was in a position to launder millions in

government checks and wire payments doled out to crooked providers

between 2005 and 2009.

He was charged last week with one count of conspiracy to commit money


"Oscar Sanchez was a financier for fraudsters and a capitalist for the

Cuban banks," prosecutors said in a court motion.

While Sanchez was a target of the ongoing investigation, prosecutors say

dozens of crooked Medicare providers — who offered HIV and medical

equipment services — all took part in the laundering scheme set up for

one reason: To hide the money.

15 accounts

With millions pouring in from Medicare, suspects opened 15 bank accounts

in Canada and Trinidad to move the money from the United States, court

records state.

In one major tactic, the ringleaders plunked down millions to buy reams

of money orders — 20 boxes in all — and then put the money into an

account in the Royal Bank of Canada in Montreal. To make the purchases,

they used a host of names, including a famous alias: Bill Clinton.

Then, after the money was concealed in the bank accounts, it was

immediately wired to several accounts at Republic Bank in Trinidad.

Investigators later found out that the accounts were not actually opened

in Trinidad, but at the branch of Republic bank in Havana, records state.

In addition, the bank had firm instructions on two of those accounts to

wire all the money immediately into the Cuban banking system.

So far, prosecutors, who are gathering their information from financial

records and unnamed witnesses, said they have traced $63 million into

Cuban banks — nearly half tied to Sanchez's case.

"This is not a traditional money-laundering case," prosecutors said.

One reason that the rogue healthcare providers turned to Sanchez was

because he acted like a money machine: providing much-needed cash to

them while they were waiting for their money to be laundered,

prosecutors charged.

Fast, efficient

"The defendants' money laundering operation was faster, more efficient,

and financially benefitted everyone involved, including [Oscar Sanchez],

who charged a fee for his services," prosecutors wrote.

In all, 70 medical company owners in South Florida submitted more than

$374 million in claims to Medicare, and were reimbursed about $70 million.

Many of those providers wanted to withdraw their proceeds in cash to

"purchase luxury items or to pay illegal kickbacks," Davidson wrote.

Though prosecutors charged that Sanchez would be a flight risk if

released on bail — saying he traveled from the country 78 times since

2002 — defense lawyer Peter Raben said most of the trips were to Mexico

where his client owned a condo.

He said charging Sanchez in the international money-laundering ring was

"a big red herring" to taint his client, who has no prior convictions.

Prosecutors say Sanchez was part of a much larger scheme to get money

into Cuba, a Communist country that does not extradite fugitives from

the United States.

As part of the Sanchez case, prosecutors are asking the court to seize

seven homes he owns in Miami-Dade, Lee and Collier counties as well as

two vehicles to recover the millions in laundered money.

Experts who have watched Miami-Dade emerge as the nation's Medicare

fraud capital say the Cuban government's involvement would not be too

far-fetched — though they have no proof to back it up.

Andy Gomez, a senior fellow of Cuban studies at the University of Miami,

said he has heard from sources in Miami and Cuba that the Castro

government extorts Medicare bounty from criminals who are allowed to

travel freely between here and the island nation.

More than two dozen people charged with Medicare fraud have fled back to

Cuba over the last five years, and many more are suspected of hiding there.

"The Cuban government knows what's going on,'' Gomez told The Miami

Herald last year.

"The government knows who the fugitives are, and the bigger they are,

the more the government expects to be paid by them … It's a way to

obtain hard currency and a way to discredit the Cuban-American exile


Yearslong probe

Kirk Ogrosky, a former lead prosecutor of Medicare fraud, said the

latest case comes after years of investigation into the Cuban connections.

"U.S. taxpayer money intended for Medicare has been flowing out of South

Florida for decades,'' Ogrosky said. "If the Department of Justice

really wanted to stop this mess in Miami, they would explain to the

elderly how their participation in these schemes help support the Cuban

government and Castro's people.

"Some portion of whatever is left over gets funneled out of the U.S. to

places like Cuba, where American taxpayers have no chance of getting it


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