LawFuel.com – Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and George Venizelos, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), today announced charges against 49 defendants for participating in a widespread fraud scheme from 2004 to August 2013 to illegally obtain nearly half a million dollars in Medicaid benefits.
Each of the defendants charged in the Complaint unsealed today is a current or former Russian diplomat or the spouse of a diplomat employed at either the Russian Mission to the United Nations (the “Mission”), the Russian Federation Consulate General in New York (the “Consulate”), or the Trade Representation of the Russian Federation in the USA, New York Office (the “Trade Representation”). The Complaint alleges that each of the defendants and their unnamed co-conspirators participated in a widespread scheme to illegally obtain Medicaid benefits for prenatal care and related costs by, among other things, falsely underreporting their income or falsely claiming that their child was a citizen of the United States.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Diplomacy should be about extending hands, not picking pockets in the host country. Here, as alleged, a multitude of Russian diplomats and their spouses ran a scam on a health care system designed to help Americans in need. As the Complaint alleges, the scam exploited a weakness in the Medicaid system, and the charges expose shameful and systemic corruption among Russian diplomats in New York.”
FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge George Venizelos said: “The United States Government values its long-standing relationship with foreign diplomats and diplomatic establishments for cooperation on many issues. Unfortunately, as detailed in the complaint, some Russian officials in New York allowed these defendants to take advantage of that relationship.
Motivated by greed and the purchase of high-end luxury items, these defendants allegedly perpetrated a fraud to illegally obtain Medicaid benefits to which they were not entitled. The unsealing of the complaint today highlights the criminal activities of these defendants and reminds the public that health care fraud remains an ongoing problem in our country. The FBI and our law enforcement partners, including the New York City Human Resources Administration and the New York State Department of Health, are committed to preventing and prosecuting health care fraud at all levels.”
According to the allegations in the Complaint unsealed today in Manhattan federal court:
Medicaid is a largely federally funded program in the United States designed to assist low-income families afford health care. In New York State, the Department of Health administers the Medicaid program, and the New York City Human Resources Administration oversees the program and processes applications in New York City. In New York State, pregnant women can receive immediate prenatal care following a preliminary assessment of the pregnant woman’s, and, if applicable, her spouse’s, income. If the pregnant woman provides an income level that is higher than the Medicaid eligibility threshold, the provider will generally not process the Medicaid application. Proof of United States citizenship is not required for a pregnant woman to receive Medicaid benefits because the unborn child is presumed to acquire United States citizenship by virtue of being born in the United States. Once completed, the pregnant woman is entitled to Medicaid benefits pursuant to the original application until the 60th post-partum day, and the newborn child is entitled to benefits on the mother’s initial application until the child’s first birthday. Diplomats, their spouses and children are generally not entitled to Medicaid benefits except in cases of emergency.
While in the United States, the individuals employed by the Mission, Consulate, and Trade Representation are paid a salary by the Russian government, which is not subject to United States federal, state, or local taxes. Employees of the Mission and Consulate generally live in housing, the vast majority of which is paid for by the Russian government. The Mission and Consulate historically have also paid for the medical expenses of their employees, including hospital and doctor bills, as well as dental expenses. Each of the defendants named in the Complaint is a Russian diplomat who works or worked at the Mission, Consulate, or Trade Representation, or was married to such an individual. As a result of an international convention among multiple nations and a bilateral agreement between the United States and Russia, children born in the United States to Russian diplomats generally do not acquire United States citizenship.
The investigation revealed the widespread submission of falsified applications for Medicaid benefits associated with medical costs for prenatal care, birth, and young children by the defendants, which enabled the defendants to obtain Medicaid benefits that they were not otherwise entitled to receive. Approximately $1,500,000 in fraudulently received benefits were obtained by the defendants and dozens of other co-conspirators not named in the Complaint. In general, the defendants underreported their income to an amount below or at the applicable Medicaid eligibility level in order to qualify for Medicaid benefits. In support of the underreported income, the defendants generally submitted letters signed by employees of the Mission, Consulate, or Trade Representation, purporting to corroborate that the falsely underreported income was the true income amount. The defendants’ true income was often hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars more per month than what was falsely reported to Medicaid. Moreover, before, during, and after the time that the defendants received Medicaid
benefits, several of the defendants opened credit card accounts in which they reflected salaries thousands of dollars higher than they reported to Medicaid.
In addition, one set of defendants failed to disclose their marriage on their initial Medicaid application – falsely claiming that they were brother and sister instead of husband and wife. As a result, those defendants failed to disclose any income the husband earned from the Mission. Because of their lies, they received almost $21,000 in Medicaid income to which they were not entitled. Three other defendants falsely claimed that their children – Russian nationals residing in the United States pursuant to visas issued by the Department of State reflecting their Russian citizenship – were citizens of the United States in order to obtain Medicaid benefits for their children. To support these lies, a United States social security card was provided for one application, and both a United States Social Security Card and a birth certificate issued by the New York City Department of Mental Health and Hygiene was provided in support of another application.
Moreover, before, during, and after the time that the defendants applied for and received hundreds of thousands of dollars in Medicaid benefits, they spent tens of thousands of dollars on luxury items, including cruise vacations and purchases such as watches, shoes, and jewelry, at stores such as Tiffany & Co., Jimmy Choo, Prada, Bloomingdale’s, and Burberry.
For example, TIMUR SALOMATIN, a former diplomat at the Mission, and his wife, NAILYA BABAEVA, applied for Medicaid pregnancy benefits in November 2010 and represented SALOMATIN’s salary to be $3,000 a month, and submitted a renewal application in June 2011 in which they claimed that SALOMATIN made $4,400 a month. In support of both applications, they submitted a letter signed by MIKHAIL KORNEEV, formerly a Counselor at the Mission, in which KORNEEV falsely confirmed the underreported income amount. However, beginning in June 2011, SALOMATIN began to receive direct payroll deposits from the Russian government into his bank account. Between June 2011 and December 2011, SALOMATIN received an average of $5,160 a month – over $2,000 more than he reported to Medicaid on the initial application. In February 2011, shortly after SALOMATIN and BABAEVA applied for Medicaid benefits, and shortly before they applied for renewal benefits, SALOMATIN applied for a credit card and represented his salary to be $8,333 a month. In December 2011, while BABAEVA’s and SALOMATIN’s children continued to receive Medicaid benefits, SALOMATIN represented his salary to be $60,000 a year, or $5,000 a month. During the period between February 2012 and December 2012, while their children continued to receive Medicaid benefits, SALOMATIN and BABAEVA made and paid for over $50,000 in purchases, including over $8,400 from Apple, and over $10,000 from retailers including, among others, Prada and Bloomingdale’s. BABAEVA and her children obtained almost $31,000 in Medicaid benefits to which they were not entitled.
ANDREY ARTASOV and NATALIYA ARTASOVA falsely represented to Medicaid that ARTASOV made only $2,900 a month (or approximately $34,800 a year) in salary in November 2008. In March 2007 – over a year and a half prior to ARTASOVA applying for Medicaid, ARTASOV reported to a credit card company that he made $60,000 a year in salary. In 2008, the year that ARTASOVA received Medicaid benefits, ARTASOV and ARTASOVA made and paid for over $48,000 in purchases on this credit card, spending thousands of dollars at Swarovski and Apple, among other things.
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Each of the defendants was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and one count of conspiracy to steal government funds and make false statements relating to health care matters, which carry maximum sentences of ten years and five years in prison, respectively.
Of the 49 defendants, 11 are currently in the United States. Five of those individuals are diplomats working at the Mission. Five of those individuals are the spouses of the diplomats. One is currently employed at the Russian Federation’s embassy in Washington, D.C., but at the time of the charged offenses, was employed at the Consulate. The remaining 38 no longer reside in the United States.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Bharara praised the investigative work of the FBI, and thanked the New York City Human Resources Administration and the New York State Department of Health for their assistance in this investigation.
The Office’s Public Corruption and Terrorism and International Narcotics Units are handling the case. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Rebecca Ricigliano, Shane Stansbury, and Ian McGinley are in charge of the prosecution.
The charges contained in the Complaint are merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.