Of the thousands of people convicted of Medicare fraud in South Florida, only a handful have been patients who took bribes.
On Tuesday in Miami federal court, three beneficiaries were sentenced to prison for accepting $600 a month in kickbacks for letting a local home healthcare agency use their Medicare cards to bill the taxpayer-funded program for fraudulent claims.
U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks sentenced Joel Loyola to two years in prison, and Daymi Fuentes Gil and Olga Martinez Rodriguez to one year and three months each.
The judge gave Loyola a harsher sentence because of his criminal history of cocaine possession and distribution, along with DUI convictions.
Middlebrooks also sentenced patient recruiter Marianela Terrero to one year and four months.
During the sentencings, the judge had one spectator removed by security officers for disturbing the court proceedings.
All four defendants were convicted at trial in December of conspiring to solicit and receive kickbacks from Superstar Home Health Care, a Miami agency that purportedly provided physical therapy services to homebound patients between October 2010 and April 2012.
Without the complicity of beneficiaries like [these] defendant[s], much of the Medicare fraud causing billions in losses could not be accomplished, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Morales wrote in court papers.
Yet the large number of corrupt beneficiaries, the difficulty in finding prosecutable cases, and the fact that many of the beneficiaries are elderly and frail, result in very few prosecutions, he wrote.
The four sentenced Tuesday were among 18 defendants charged in the Medicare kickback-conspiracy case. Of those, 13 pleaded guilty before trial, including Pablo Orama, an investor in Superstar.
Previously, Orama was sentenced to nearly four years in prison and ordered to reimburse $742,742 to Medicare, the federal insurance program for the elderly and disabled.
Superstars president and manager, Vivian Augustine, was sentenced to 1½ years and ordered to pay $679,206.