Carmen Gonzalez, who had escaped to Cuba five years ago after stealing $8.2 million from Medicare, made the mistake of coming back. The FBI was waiting. While Gonzalez’s theft made her a millionaire, she was still considered “a minnow” in Miami’s “sea of Medicare fraud,” according to the Miami Herald (paywall alert). Gonzalez and her father Enrique both worked for the notorious Benitez brothers, who the FBI says ran 11 clinics in the Miami-Dade area that stole $84 million from Medicare.
While Gonzalez is one of 31 defendants captured by the FBI so far, there are still 150 other fugitives charged in South Florida Medicare fraud cases still on the loose. Most of the fugitives are Cuban-born immigrants who have since fled to Mexico, Cuba, or other Spanish-speaking countries in an attempt to evade capture. Gonzalez had fled to her native Cuba after U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno granted her $50,000 bail because she said she wanted to take her son to Disney World for his birthday. Moreno, who had warned other judges about bail jumps in Medicare fraud cases, was greatly irritated, the Herald reported. Gonzalez’s attorney said she left because she “panicked.”
She had been involved in clinics that billed for HIV therapy, which the Miami Herald calls “the most spectacular swindle in Medicare history.” According to their indictment, the Benitez brothers netted about $84 million in Medicare funds to their HIV therapy clinics between 2001 and 2004.
For more than a decade, crooks looking for big money have “devised a host of scams” to defraud the federal government of Medicare money. During that time, 1,600 offenders have been charged with Medicare fraud in South Florida alone, making up “one-third of all health-care fraud cases” in the U.S., another article in the Miami Herald reports. The rackets include HIV clinics, diabetic home-care operations, mental-health sessions, and physical rehab centers. One thing that will aid the fraud-fighters: The Affordable Care Act has tougher penalties in place for offenders, as well as money to “combat healthcare corruption.”