Sunday, June 24, 2012

Medicare fraud’s men in Havana

Posted on Saturday, 06.23.12

Medicare fraud's men in Havana
By Myriam Marquez

If the feds' case sticks, Oscar L. Sanchez will be convicted as a
cash-for-Cuba financier of fraudsters, "a capitalist for Cuban banks,"
as prosecutors wrote in a court motion, accusing the 46-year-old South
Florida man of conspiracy to commit money laundering for a group that
funneled $63 million of stolen Medicare payments to Havana banks. You
think the Cuban government was in on it?

For the skeptics, I have two words: Robert Vesco.

The fugitive American financier was accused of securities fraud in the
1970s and after trying to buy his own island from the country of
Antigua, popped up in Havana in 1982, protected by the communist regime
from extradition to the United States. Alas, the commie honeymoon didn't
last once Vesco's millions seemed to run out. Cuba arrested him in 1996
for "fraud and illicit economic activity . . . acts prejudicial to the
economic plans and contracts of the state." He didn't last long in
prison, dying of lung cancer a few months later.

Sanchez's acts, federal prosecutors say, have been prejudicial to U.S.
taxpayers, by about $31 million, which is the amount the federal
government says it tracked from 2005 to 2009 through a complicated web
of foreign shell companies Sanchez created using his check-cashing
business to funnel the Medicare payments from the United States to
Canada, Trinidad and eventually Cuba. The money in at least two accounts
deposited in the Trinidad bank in Havana came with instructions to be
wired into the Cuban banking system.

Still, prosecutors say there's no direct evidence linking the Cuban
regime and the Castro brothers to the plot.

Well, no kidding. After 53 years of elaborate schemes, murder and mayhem
from Angola to Venezuela, Fidel and Raúl have gotten pretty good at it.
But the bottom line really isn't that complicated if the doubters care
to seek the truth. Nothing happens in Cuba without the consent of the
Castros. Certainly nothing having to do with money, and certainly not
millions of dollars in deposits in Cuban government-controlled banks.
Was the Cuban government taking a cut?

You betcha. And that's no conspiracy theory. It's simple mathematics --
and history.

More than one high-level defector has testified before Congress and gone
on Spanish-language TV over the years to detail fraud schemes and spying
operations, all in an effort to keep the revolution going, with American
money, no less.

Just last week, as the Cuban government was reported by The Associated
Press to "bristle" at any hint that it would be involved in a Medicare
fraud scheme, Cuba's Foreign Ministry had another "bristling" episode --
this time bristling against the Dutch. ING Bank NV announced earlier
this month that it would pay $619 million to end a case against it
involving billions of dollars secretly moved through American banks on
behalf of "Cuban and Iranian concerns in violation of U.S. sanctions."

In 2004 a Swiss bank got slapped with a $100 million fine for buying and
selling more U.S. dollars from Cuba than the regime could have earned
from its sputtering economic affairs.

Sanchez's is the first case that makes a direct link between Medicare
fraud and Cuba benefiting from it. But the benefits have always been

In 2008, The Miami Herald's "Medicare Racket" investigation by reporter
Jay Weaver found that at least half of South Florida's Medicare
fugitives were believed to be back in Cuba, sipping mojitos. About 60
Cuban scammers, many of them arriving in Miami in the 1990s,
collectively billed more than a billion dollars from taxpayers through
medical storefronts with phantom patients. As federal investigators
started to get close to the action, about two dozen of those scammers
took off to Cuba.

Does anyone believe that the regime had no clue these millionaires had
moved back or that the government isn't getting its share? Does anyone
wonder how many of these guys work for Cuba's state security?

While Sanchez was a target of this latest ongoing investigation,
prosecutors say dozens of crooked Medicare providers — who offered HIV
and medical equipment services — were in on the laundering scheme. "The
defendants' money laundering operation was faster, more efficient, and
financially benefitted everyone involved, including [Sanchez], who
charged a fee for his services," prosecutors wrote.

Sanchez pleaded not guilty on Friday. U.S. Magistrate Jonathan Goodman
was wise to deny bail to such a flight risk. Fool us once, shame on you.
Fool us 61 times, and counting, shame on us.

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