Kept behind bars because of fears he might flee to Cuba, Armando “Manny” Gonzalez has pleaded guilty to stealing tens of millions of dollars from Medicare by fraudulently billing the taxpayer-funded program through a mental health chain in Miami-Dade and North Carolina.
Gonzalez, 50, a convicted cocaine trafficker who joined the Medicare rackets in the mid-2000 era, had opened a pair of mental health clinics in the Kendall and Cutler Bay areas. By 2008, Gonzalez suspected the feds were on to him, so the one-time Miami-Dade resident took himself and his business to North Carolina.
Before his arrest last May, he was planning to open another psychotherapy clinic in Tennessee.
Gonzalez was indicted with others on charges of conspiring to defraud $63 million from Medicare. He was ordered held without bail after prosecutors argued that, because he faces 30 years to life in prison, he could be a “flight risk” to his native Cuba.
Dozens of Cuban immigrants charged in South Florida with trying to bilk the federal healthcare program for seniors have fled to the island, which historically has turned a blind eye and doesn’t return the fugitives to the United States.
On Monday, Gonzalez pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga to one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Under the terms of his plea agreement, Gonzalez agreed to forfeit property valued at several million dollars, including $987,910 seized in July as well as a one-acre home, vehicles and other assets in Hendersonville, N.C.
According to court records, Gonzalez’s company, Health Care Solutions Network, billed both Medicare and the Florida Medicaid program for purported mental health services that patients did not need.
Gonzalez’s three clinics — accused of entertaining patients with TV and movies instead of providing actual group psychotherapy sessions — collected $28 million in Medicare payments from 2004 to 2011. Justice Department lawyers said in court papers that the “vast majority" of the money “disappeared” with a “substantial portion ... laundered through shell corporations.”
Gonzalez was initially indicted along with eight codefendants, including a registered nurse, John Thoen, and other employees of his shuttered company.
Thoen has pleaded guilty to healthcare fraud, and so have three other employees, Alexandra Haynes, Serena Joslin and Sarah Da Silva Keller.
Also charged in the scheme: Daniel Martinez, Raymond Rivero, Ivon Perez and Alba Serrano, operators of three assisted-living facilities in the Homestead area called Mi Renacer, God Is First and Kayleen and Denis Care.
The ALF operators were accused of taking bribes from Gonzalez in exchange for supplying a steady stream of patients, many of whom suffered from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. They could not have benefitted from the therapy, prosecutors said.
All four defendants have pleaded guilty to health care fraud and related charges for their roles in the scheme.