“The defendants’ money laundering operation was faster, more efficient, and financially benefitted everyone involved, including [Oscar Sanchez], who charged a fee for his services,” prosecutors wrote.
In all, 70 medical company owners in South Florida submitted more than $374 million in claims to Medicare, and were reimbursed about $70 million.
Many of those providers wanted to withdraw their proceeds in cash to “purchase luxury items or to pay illegal kickbacks,” Davidson wrote.
Though prosecutors charged that Sanchez would be a flight risk if released on bail — saying he traveled from the country 78 times since 2002 — defense lawyer Peter Raben said most of the trips were to Mexico where his client owned a condo.
He said charging Sanchez in the international money-laundering ring was “a big red herring” to taint his client, who has no prior convictions.
Prosecutors say Sanchez was part of a much larger scheme to get money into Cuba, a Communist country that does not extradite fugitives from the United States.
As part of the Sanchez case, prosecutors are asking the court to seize seven homes he owns in Miami-Dade, Lee and Collier counties as well as two vehicles to recover the millions in laundered money.
Experts who have watched Miami-Dade emerge as the nation’s Medicare fraud capital say the Cuban government’s involvement would not be too far-fetched — though they have no proof to back it up.
Andy Gomez, a senior fellow of Cuban studies at the University of Miami, said he has heard from sources in Miami and Cuba that the Castro government extorts Medicare bounty from criminals who are allowed to travel freely between here and the island nation.
More than two dozen people charged with Medicare fraud have fled back to Cuba over the last five years, and many more are suspected of hiding there.
“The Cuban government knows what’s going on,’’ Gomez told The Miami Herald last year.
“The government knows who the fugitives are, and the bigger they are, the more the government expects to be paid by them … It’s a way to obtain hard currency and a way to discredit the Cuban-American exile community.’’
Kirk Ogrosky, a former lead prosecutor of Medicare fraud, said the latest case comes after years of investigation into the Cuban connections.
“U.S. taxpayer money intended for Medicare has been flowing out of South Florida for decades,’’ Ogrosky said. “If the Department of Justice really wanted to stop this mess in Miami, they would explain to the elderly how their participation in these schemes help support the Cuban government and Castro’s people.
“Some portion of whatever is left over gets funneled out of the U.S. to places like Cuba, where American taxpayers have no chance of getting it back.’’