September 2012 Archives

September 25, 2012

Sentences Handed Down in $45 Million Medicare Fraud Scheme

South Florida is once again in the headlines as major players in a Medicare fraud scheme received lengthy federal prison sentences. Luis Alejandro Sanz and his wife entered pleas for their involvement in what the government alleged was a $45 million Medicare fraud scheme. The indictment alleged that the defendants through Ideal Home Health, billed Medicare $45 million for nursing services provided to homebound diabetes patients. Of the $45 million billed, Medicare returned $30 million in taxpayer money. The Sanzes appeared with their Miami criminal attorneys at their sentencing hearing. Luis Sanz received a ten year prison sentence, while his wife Elizabeth received a nine year prison sentence.

The government alleged that Luis after being released from prison on cocaine trafficking charges, began his new criminal enterprise of Medicare fraud. Luis put the business in his wife's name to conceal the fact that he had a prior felony record and state prison sentence. The business operated between 2006 and 2009. Once uncovered, the federal government's investigation revealed one of the largest cases of Medicare fraud in the country's history. The investigation has led to 25 fraud convictions with more indictments expected. The judge when handing down the sentence, said the couple made a mockery of the federal healthcare system.

The government alleged at the sentencing hearing that the defendants purchased a $1.3 million home with the ill-gotten gains and that kickbacks were paid to both patients and recruiters to facilitate the fraud. The government also mentioned that Medicare should not be blamed for the oversight as the defendants made the illegal business appear to be legitimate. As soon as Luis finished his five year prison sentence for cocaine trafficking and money laundering, he contrived the fraud and put his wife in charge of the company to avoid detection of his criminal record. The indictment alleged that Elizabeth ran the business and accused her of forging doctor's signatures, altering medical records and filing false claims.

According to the prosecutor handling the case, many drug traffickers engaged in Medicare fraud once they had completed their prison sentences. A defendant previously convicted of drug trafficking opened mental health clinics in Cutler Bay and in the Kendall area. Upon discovering that the feds were investigating him, he moved his operation to North Carolina. He has since been arrested with eight co-conspirators for billing $63 million dollars in fraudulent claims to the federal government. Another alleged drug dealer opened 11 medical equipment companies using Cuban migrants as straw owners, eventually billing Medicare $48 million. He is currently serving a 20 year sentence.

To prevent ongoing fraud, Medicare has implemented a more proactive approach with the assistance of $350 million dollar grant to develop a more strict screening process along with software used to detect fraudulent Medicare claims. Medicare is also demanding that providers who have a historic risk of fraud, like medical equipment suppliers and home healthcare suppliers, undergo extensive screening, including FBI background checks and fingerprinting. The changes in better being able to detect fraud come as a result of the massive fraud that has occurred in Miami and Florida as a whole.

Medicare Fraudsters Sentenced to Prison after $45 Million Scheme, CBSLocal.com, September 15, 2012.

September 18, 2012

ICE Arrests 36 Aliens in Gulf Coast Operation

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted another sweep in the State of Florida netting 36 aliens with criminal convictions or egregious immigration law violations. The operation lasted five days and occurred in and around the Gulf Coast area. The last operation that netted dozens of immigrants occurred in Miami and the South Florida region. All those arrested were deemed by ICE to be immigration fugitives or immigration violators. The sweeps conducted by ICE are becoming more frequent and are focusing on different areas of Florida and around the United States. Once a person has been arrested by ICE, few options remain for those in custody. Anyone having a friend or family member in immigration custody should contact both an immigration and criminal lawyer to determine if the person being held in custody can take legal action to avoid deportation.

In the latest operation, immigrants were taken into custody for criminal convictions for multiple offenses including: aggravated assault, burglary, battery on a law enforcement officer, identity theft, cocaine possession, simple battery, fraud, forgery, driving under the influence (DUI), and domestic violence related charges. Five of the 36 taken into custody had been previously ordered to leave the country, but failed to leave as directed by ICE authorities. Six of those taken into custody had already been deported and illegally re-entered the country. Of the 36 individuals arrested, three were women. Those taken into to custody came from countries such as Cuba, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Vietnam, Thailand, Iran, and the Czech Republic.

Anyone taken into to custody for a prior criminal record, should immediately consult with both an immigration and criminal attorney. Immigration lawyers are useful in presenting a case in front of an immigration judge in federal court. However, the a person's release from custody cannot be generally secured until a criminal defense lawyer successfully files and wins and motion to vacate a criminal record and then secures a dismissal of the charges. Motions to vacate have been increasingly difficult to win as the appellate courts have seriously eroded the laws allowing for the filing of a successful motion for post-conviction relief.

However, experienced criminal lawyers are often able to successfully file and win these motions with supporting mitigation packets. The mitigation packets submitted to prosecutors must contain tax returns, marriage and birth certificates of the spouse and children born of the marriage, and supporting letters from employers, friends and family. Despite the disintegration of the laws allowing for post-conviction relief, equity can play a large part in successfully obtaining the release of a friend or loved one from immigration custody.

ICE has given no indication that they intend to let up on the immigrations sweeps they conduct at random times and locations. An official from ICE was quoted as saying, "These arrests of convicted criminal and repeat immigration offenders demonstrate ICE's ongoing commitment to public safety." Anyone who is an immigrant and has a prior criminal record should consult with an attorney because inevitably, the federal authorities will come knocking. Repairing a criminal record is much easier when a person is out of custody with no pending immigration charges, as favorably resolving these cases sometimes takes months, sometimes even exceeding a year.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement Arrests 36 Fugitives, Criminal Aliens in Gulf Coast Operation, WCTC.TV.com, September 18, 2012.

September 12, 2012

Beach Cop Arrested on Racketeering Charges

A veteran police officer was arrested and appeared at his bond hearing last week. George Navarro, Jr. surrendered last week and is facing charges of racketeering, fraud and official misconduct. His initial bond was set at $150,000. The Miami criminal lawyer representing Navarro filed a motion for bond reduction which was granted in part by the judge. After hearing argument from the prosecutor and defense attorney, the judge presiding over the bond hearing reduced the amount to $88,000. Navarro's lawyer argued that he had been an exemplary and extraordinary police officer and that his professional record merited the reduction. Before posting the bond, Navarro was required to surrender his passport and any other travel documents that he had in his possession.

Each county in the State of Florida has standard bonds for certain offense. Bonds in Miami-Dade County range from $500 to $500,000 depending on the charges making up the arrest. The largest bond requirements are generally found in drug trafficking and large-scale fraud cases. Not only are bonds extraordinarily high in those cases, but almost always are accompanied by what is known as a "Nebbia" requirement. Simply put, a defendant with assistance of his defense lawyer, must prove to the prosecutor and the judge that the money for the bond, both the premium and the collateral, do not come from illegal proceeds. Once the bond has been posted and the "Nebbia" requirement has been satisfied, a defendant will be released from custody pending the conclusion of the case.

The arrest warrant alleges that Navarro was involved with several other individuals in a fraud scheme involving the buying and leasing of automobiles. He is specifically accused of providing false information on his credit application to buy a car at Lexis of North Miami. He is accused of defaulting on the loan and falsely reporting that he was a victim of grand theft of a motor vehicle. He is also accused of being a member of a ring of individuals that purchase or lease cars, report them stolen, and then sell the cars in whole or in parts. Pending the investigation, Navarro remained on duty, but at the time of the arrest he was relieved of duty, but still receiving pay.

The defendant is the son of former Miami Beach Police Chief George Navarro, Sr. Sr. was the lead homicide detective in the infamous Gianni Versace murder case. He also investigated the suicide of the alleged murderer, Andrew Cunanan. He is currently employed by Miami Beach as the city's emergency manager. The current Miami Beach police chief said that it is the job of his department to weed out corruption. While the police chief's words are an encouraging sign, the department has a long way to go before correcting its problems.

Miami Beach Officer Arrested on Racketeering Charges Bonds Out of Jail, CBSlocal.com, September 6, 2012.

September 4, 2012

Former NFL and College Players Enter Pleas in Federal Court

Several former NFL and college football players have been charged in federal court with crimes such as tax fraud and aggravated identity theft. Former University of Miami, New York Giant's and Oakland Raider's defensive tackle, William Joseph, pled guilty last Friday to tax related fraud and identity theft charges. Another former NFL player, Michael Bennett, and Louis Gachelin, former Miami Jackson High School and Syracuse University player, were also charged along with Joseph. All three defendants were accused of cashing a large number of fraudulently obtained tax refund checks. One of the defendants is also accused of trying to obtain a loan with falsified collateral. All three defendants entered guilty pleas with the assistance of their Miami criminal lawyers.

Joseph entered a guilty plea to theft of government money and aggravated identity theft. Joseph's sentencing hearing is scheduled for November 9, 2012. Joseph is facing a minimum two year prison sentence for the charge of aggravated identity theft. The judge imposing the penalties may sentence Joseph to consecutive time. The charge of theft will carry a sentence largely dependent on the amount of loss suffered by the federal government. Pursuant to federal statutes, the 2 year sentence can be stacked or run consecutively to the sentence imposed for the theft. Bennett, a former first round draft pick, entered a guilty plea to the charge of wire fraud. Gachelin plead guilty to the same offenses as Joseph and is looking at roughly the same sentence.

Back in May, the former football players were charged along with five other individuals with cashing $500,000 in stolen tax return checks. The defendants, either in whole or in part, forged the signatures of the individuals who actually had the right to the checks. Bennett tried to obtain a $200,000 loan using a fake bank statement showing that he had $9 million in collateral. The FBI got wind of the scheme to defraud and set up a check cashing store in an effort to catch these individuals. The sting operation led to the arrest of everyone involved. In a side note, the FBI was charging 35-40% for each check that was cashed.

Federal authorities claim that the number of identity theft related crimes are escalating in Florida and across the United States. The United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida claims that identity theft is "America's fastest growing crime." Thousands of victims have been reported in the Miami and Tampa areas. According to the feds, the problem is being created as a result of electronic filing. The Internal Revenue Service is sending out checks prior to checking the W-2 income forms which do not arrive in their offices until after the tax filing season ends. By the time the IRS discovers the fraud, the checks have already been sent out and deposited or cashed. The number of identity theft and fraud related incidents amounted to 248,000 in 2010. According to the Department of the Treasury, 940,000 fraudulent tax returns amounting to $6.5 million have been filed.

NFL Veteran Who Played at UM Pleads Guilty to Tax-Related Fraud Charges in Miami, Palm Beach Post.com, August 31, 2012.