21 July – LAWFUEL – The Law News Network – R. Alexander Acos…

21 July – LAWFUEL – The Law News Network – R. Alexander Acosta, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Michael S. Clemens, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Miami Field Office, and Brian J. Wimpling, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service, Miami Field Office, announced that defendant LAZARO BETANCOURT was arraigned today on a seventy-nine (79) count health care fraud and money laundering Indictment. At today’s hearing, Magistrate Judge William Turnoff ordered Betancourt detained pending trial in this matter. The trial will be conducted by United States District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga.

Betancourt had been indicted in July 2004, along with six others, for various health care fraud charges. Co-defendants CARLOS MARX MESA, KENIA MESA, OSVALDO PIEDRA, VIRIDIANA NEGRIN, GILBERTO HERRERA, and GUILLERMO CARNET previously pled guilty to the federal charges. Betancourt, however, fled the country when the investigation commenced in late 2002 and became a fugitive in Mexico.

The Indictment alleges that Betancourt and his co-conspirators submitted false claims to Medicare for the cost of durable medical equipment, paid kickbacks and bribes to patient recruiters for fictitious patients, concealed the submission of fraudulent Medicare claims and the payment of kickbacks, and used the proceeds of the fraud for their personal benefit. According to the Indictment, Betancourt owned three fraudulent health care businesses, Venenic Medical Supplies, Inc., MCM Medical Equipment & Supplies, Inc., and 21st Century Medical Equipment Corporation, but used straw owners to conceal his identity.

More specifically, Betancourt is charged with eight substantive counts of health care fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1347. Betancourt is also charged with conspiring to commit money laundering, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1956(h), and with twenty-one (21) substantive counts of money laundering, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1956(a)(1)(B)(i). Lastly, Betancourt is charged with conspiring to structure financial transactions totaling more than $129,000 to avoid Internal Revenue Service reporting requirements, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371.

The Indictment alleges that Betancourt was the leader and organizer of a $7 million health care fraud and $4 million money laundering ring that caused a total loss to Medicare of more than $7 million. Betancourt’s own conduct resulted in a loss to Medicare of more than $2.5 million. As well, Betancourt is alleged to have personally laundered more than $900,000 in Medicare money. The Indictment also charges Betancourt with leading and organizing the conspiracy to structure financial transactions involving more than $1.5 million. If convicted on all counts, Betancourt faces a maximum of 490 years’ imprisonment.

Betancourt’s Indictment was unsealed on August 5, 2004. As stated in Court by Assistant U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer during today’s pretrial detention hearing, Betancourt fled to Mexico in 2002 to avoid prosecution as soon as he learned of the federal investigation. On July 1, 2005, the FBI learned that Betancourt had been taken into custody in Cancun, Mexico, on other unrelated charges. The FBI’s legal attache in Mexico and the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs worked with the Mexican government to secure Betancourt’s lawful return to the United States. On July 14, 2005, Betancourt was placed on a flight to Miami and attempted to escape. He told agents that they would have to shoot him before he would return to the United States. Betancourt physically resisted the agents who tried to secure him for his transport to Miami.

In total, more than forty (40) individuals have been convicted as a result of this investigation into widespread Medicare durable medical equipment fraud in Miami-Dade County. While Betancourt was a fugitive, his six named co-defendants all pled guilty and were sentenced. Five of the six pled guilty to Count 33 of the Indictment, which charged them with conspiracy to launder money, and received substantial sentences: Carlos Marx Mesa was sentenced to 63 months’ imprisonment and payment of $1,768,735.85 in restitution; Gilberto Herrera was sentenced to 72 months’ imprisonment and payment of $1,677,336.62 in restitution; Guillermo Carnet was sentenced to 37 months’ imprisonment and payment of $608,384.78 in restitution; Kenia Mesa was sentenced to 26 months’ imprisonment and payment of $156,720.06 in restitution; Osvaldo Piedra was sentenced to 29 months’ imprisonment and payment of $294,926.28 in restitution; and Viridiana Negrin pled guilty to a Superseding Information for being an accessory after the fact to the crime of money laundering, and was sentenced to five years’ probation and payment of $90,218.83 in restitution. In addition, Betancourt’s former wife and mother-in-law also were charged and convicted of conspiracy to structure transactions to avoid Internal Revenue Service reporting obligations. Betancourt’s former wife, Antonia Fulguiero, was sentenced to five years’ probation and ordered to pay $41,598.60 in restitution. Betancourt’s former mother-in-law, Maria Padilla, was sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment and ordered to pay $37,729.43 in restitution. This case is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney E.J. Yera.

A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls . Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on .

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