49 Russian diplomats charged with $1.5M healthcare fraud

U.S. prosecutors have charged 49 current and former Russian diplomats and their family members with participating in a $1.5 million Medicaid fraud, Reuters reported.

The charges, filed in November and unsealed on Thursday, claim the diplomats, based in New York, submitted falsified applications and fraudulent claims for Medicaid between 2004 and 2013.

The diplomats under-reported their incomes to qualify for Medicaid benefits, including benefits for pregnancy, child birth, and doctor visits for the young children of Russian diplomats and their spouses, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York.

"Our investigation revealed that the defendants spent tens of thousands of dollars on luxury watches, jewelry, electronics and vacations," FBI Assistant Director of the New York office George Venizelos said yesterday in a statement. "The amount of money spent on these luxury items was inconsistent with the grossly underreported incomes claimed by the defendants on their Medicaid applications."

Federal prosecutors charged each of the 49 people with one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and one count of conspiracy to steal government funds and make false statements relating to healthcare matters, which carry maximum prison sentences of 10 years and five years, respectively, U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York noted.

The U.S. State Department did not say if it plans to ask Russia to waive diplomatic immunity for the current Russian diplomats charged so U.S. authorities can arrest the defendants or whether it will seek reimbursement for the alleged fraud, Reuters noted.

Last month Medicaid and Medicare fraud prevention came under fire when the Government Accountability Office noted that although the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to rooting out and preventing fraud in government healthcare program, HHS fraud prevention programs might not be effective.

To learn more:
- here's the Reuters article
- check out Venizelos' statement
- read the Southern District of New York announcement

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