90 arrested in S. Florida Medicare crackdown

jweaver@MiamiHerald.comMay 15, 2013 

Twenty-five South Florida arrests were made Tuesday out of 90 nationwide for alleged Medicare fraud, including an actor and cable station operator in the hotbed of U.S. health care scams -- Miami.

The biggest Florida name swept up by police was actor and entrepreneur Roberto Marrero, who comes from a family of thespians in Cuba. He raked in millions from Medicare fraud, investigators charge.

Marrero was arrested Tuesday along with his wife, Sandra Fernandez Viera. They stand accused of submitting

$20 million in bogus bills to the taxpayer-funded Medicare program for purported home health care services for diabetic patients.

The couple joined 89 accused Medicare fraud offenders charged in a federal operation that stretched from Miami to Detroit to Los Angeles. Collectively, the defendants, including doctors, nurses and clinic operators, were accused of plotting to bilk $223 million from Medicare.

In 2007, Marrero struck gold as a Medicare-licensed health care provider in Miami, authorities say. Marrero was often seen tooling around in new toys: a couple of Lamborghinis, a Ferrari and a Bentley.

According to his resume. he's had roles in soap operas and bit parts in TV shows, including "Miami Vice," "America's Most Wanted" and "Unsolved Mysteries."

Marrero also launched a cable TV station in Miami featuring programs about Cuban culture. It operated from a television studio he built in the Allapattah area.

The crackdown was part of a continuing Medicare Fraud Strike Force effort in Miami and eight other regions riddled with health care corruption. The Obama administration is pursuing those who perpetrate scams against the government's health insurance program for the elderly and disabled, which has a long history of fraudulent billing and lax oversight of Medicare operators.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder joined Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in Washington, D.C., to announce the results of the Strike Force's sixth national takedown of Medicare fraud offenders since 2010.

Sebelius added: "You will get caught, and you will pay the price."

Marrero and his wife made their first appearances Tuesday in federal court in Miami, along with several of the South Florida defendants charged with Medicare fraud.

Justice Department prosecutor Brendan Stewart wants to detain the couple as flight risks. Marrero's attorney, Jose Quiñon, said he will challenge the government's no-bond position, arguing Marrero has strong ties to the community. His wife's attorney, Leonard Sands, said he also plans to fight any detention.

Marrero and his wife were co-owners of Trust Care Health Services in Miami from 2007 to 2010. According to the indictment, the couple submitted false bills to Medicare to treat 700 homebound diabetic patients who purportedly could not inject their own insulin and needed the assistance of costly skilled nurses. The couple also billed Medicare for unnecessary physical therapy, according to the indictment.

The couple reportedly paid thousands of dollars a month to a recruiter, Enrique Rodriguez, who supplied patients with valuable Medicare cards. Rodriguez, accused of bribing patients, was also charged in the indictment.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami is seeking to freeze the couple's assets as FBI agents and Health and Human Services investigators try to uncover where they hid the $15 million their business, Trust Care, allegedly received from Medicare over the four-year period, prosecutors said.

According to a court complaint, Marrero received more than $5 million from Trust Care accounts, and other corporations he set up received another $4 million. His wife pocketed $400,000 from Trust Care's accounts, the complaint shows.

Yet, "the United States has only been able to locate assets totaling a fraction of that amount," prosecutors wrote in the complaint.

"Defendants have dissipated millions of dollars in Medicare funds, and unless enjoined, will continue to dissipate the proceeds of their Medicare fraud and other assets in their possession," they wrote.

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