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Every day, hundreds of sick and injured patients walk into free and charitable clinics around the Tampa Bay area in need of a doctor.Many are suffering from chronic conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Some patients were referred to the clinics by staff at hospitals where they landed after years of neglecting to care for treatable conditions.The clinics allow the patients to pay what they can, or nothing at all. They are staffed by doctors and nurses who volunteer their time. They survive off donations and small grants.Many of the patients have jobs but they are living paycheck to paycheck. None have health insurance, either because they do not qualify for Medicaid or can’t afford private coverage. For these patients, the clinics are often their only option for primary care.

Mental-Health Fraud: Crime of the Week

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Miami Herald
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

It may seem as though it’s always health-care-fraud week in Miami, but this week’s a lollapalooza. And all the alleged crimes involved mental-health clinics.

As the Miami Heraldreports, the FBI captured Kathryn Abbate, who used to run the Miami Beach Community Health Center until auditors found $6.8 million in taxpayers’ money had been siphoned off.

She faces both state and federal theft charges, but is said to be cooperating with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Five doctors could be involved, Justice Department attorneys said.

Maybe the strangest thing about the case: At the mental-health center, Abbate was being paid more than $1 million a year, the Herald reported. That wasn’t enough?

An even bigger theft than that came to a close this week with the guilty plea of  Armando “Manny” Gonzalez, a former cocaine trafficker who switched to Medicare fraud, reportedly because it was much safer and easier. 

The Miami Heraldreported that Gonzalez was indicted with others on charges of conspiring to defraud Medicare of $63 million through his mental-health clinics, which operated as Health Care Solutions Network.

A registered nurse who worked with him, John Thoen, was sentenced to more than nine years in prison in the case, the Justice Department reports.

Carol Gentry, founder and special correspondent of Health News Florida, has four decades of experience covering health finance and policy, with an emphasis on consumer education and protection.