If you've ever wondered why so many healthcare fraud cases seem to surface in Florida, an investigation by the Sun Sentinel offers some startling answers.The first part of a year-long investigation reveals a direct conduit of crime from Cuba to the United States thanks, in part, to federal policies that have been in place for decades.
The newspaper indicated that, since 2000, Cuban-born immigrants have made up 74 percent of healthcare fraud arrests in Miami-Dade County and 72 percent of federal healthcare fraud arrests in all of Florida. Nationally, Cuban-born immigrants account for 41 percent of healthcare fraud arrests, even though Cuban immigrants account for less than 1 percent of the U.S. population.
The Sentinel "conservatively estimates" that Cubans linked to crimes ranging from credit card fraud and insurance fraud to marijuana trafficking and production have walked away with $2 billion in the last two decades.
However, Alex Acosta, a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida told the newspaper that Medicare fraud alone accounts for more than $2 billion in stolen funds every year in South Florida. Investigators, prosecutors and members of Congress have speculated that the Cuban government may be behind the Medicare fraud schemes, an accusation that Cuba has denied.
The Sentinel points to longstanding U.S. policy as the primary focus of blame. Under the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, Cubans are permitted to enter the U.S. without visas or background checks and "can return home without jeopardizing their status," according to the newspaper. This allows a free flow of stolen money to circulate back into Cuba. A tenuous relationship between the U.S. and Cuba makes it difficult to catch criminals once they return.
Additionally, in 2009, the Obama administration loosened restrictions on Cubans taking money back to the country; the report added that the president wants to loosen those restrictions even further. Criminal defense lawyers told the Sentinel that they know of some fugitives who give a cut of their fraudulant earnings to the Cuban government upon their return.
The investigation points specifically to Jorge Emilio Perez, a Miami man wanted for stealing $238 million from Medicare, who is currently living in a two-story waterfront house in Havana. Perez's half-brother and "bag man," Eduardo Perez de Morales, pleaded guilty to fraud charges in December.
However, because neither the U.S. nor Cuba recognize an extradition treaty between the two countries, criminals such as Perez are rarely brought to justice once they flee to Cuba. The FBI estimates that 30 to 50 healthcare fraud fugitives have gone to Cuba--but, the Sentinel added, more than 500 Cuban-born fugitives have outstanding arrest warrants for federal charges, and another 500 face state and drug charges.
- read The Sun Sentinel investigation