Medicare

Miami actor, cable station founder arrested in Medicare fraud takedown

 

jweaver@MiamiHerald.com

Actor and entrepreneur Roberto F. Marrero comes from a family of thespians in Cuba, according to his résumé. It says he has had roles in soap operas and lists bit parts in television shows, including Miami Vice, America’s Most Wanted and Unsolved Mysteries.

He also launched a local cable TV station featuring programs about Cuban culture. It operated from a studio he built in the Allapattah area.

In 2007, Marrero added to his portfolio and struck gold as a Medicare-licensed healthcare provider in Miami, authorities say. As he raked in millions of dollars from the federal program — the proceeds of massive Medicare fraud, prosecutors say — Marrero could be seen tooling around in his new toys: a couple of Lamborghinis, a Ferrari and a Bentley.

Tuesday, Marrero was arrested along with his wife, Sandra Fernandez Viera. Both stand accused of submitting $20 million in bogus bills to the taxpayer-funded Medicare program for purported home healthcare services for diabetic patients.

The couple were among 89 accused Medicare fraud offenders charged in a federal operation that stretched from Miami to Detroit to Los Angeles. Collectively, the defendants, including doctors, nurses and clinic operators, were accused of plotting to bilk $223 million from Medicare.

The crackdown was part of a continuing Medicare Fraud Strike Force effort in Miami and eight other regions riddled with healthcare corruption. The Obama administration has taken great strides in pursuing scams against the government’s health insurance program for the elderly and disabled, which has a long history of fraudulent billing and lax oversight of Medicare operators.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder joined Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in Washington, D.C., to announce the results of the Strike Force’s sixth national takedown of alleged Medicare fraud offenders since 2010.

“We will use every appropriate tool and available resource to find, stop and punish those who seek to take advantage of their fellow citizens,” Holder said at a news conference. Sebelius added: “You will get caught, and you will pay the price.”

Marrero and his wife made their first appearances Tuesday in federal court in Miami, along with several other of the 25 South Florida defendants charged with Medicare fraud.

Justice Department prosecutor Brendan Stewart is seeking to detain the couple, asserting they are flight risks. Marrero’s attorney, Jose Quiñon, said he plans to challenge the government’s no-bond position, arguing Marrero has strong ties to the community. His wife’s attorney, Leonard Sands, said she, too, plans to fight any detention.

“An indictment is only an accusation,” Sands said. “We ask that she be afforded the presumption of innocence in the court of public opinion, the same presumption that she be afforded in a court of law.”

Marrero and his wife were co-owners of Trust Care Health Services in Miami from 2007 to 2010. According to the indictment, the couple submitted false bills to Medicare to treat 700 homebound diabetic patients who purportedly could not inject their own insulin and needed the assistance of costly, skilled nurses. The couple also billed Medicare for physical therapy that was not necessary, according to the indictment.

The indictment further states the couple paid thousands of dollars a month to a recruiter, Enrique Rodriguez, who supplied them with patients who had valuable Medicare cards. Rodriguez, accused of bribing patients, was also charged in the indictment.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami is seeking to freeze the couple’s assets as FBI agents and Health and Human Services investigators are trying to uncover where they allegedly hid the $15 million that their business, Trust Care, received from Medicare over the four-year period, prosecutors said.

According to a court complaint, Marrero received more than $5 million from Trust Care’s accounts, and other corporations he set up received an additional $4 million. His wife pocketed $400,000 from Trust Care’s accounts, the complaint says.

Yet, “the United States has only been able to locate assets totaling a fraction of that amount,” prosecutors wrote in the complaint.

“Defendants have dissipated millions of dollars in Medicare funds, and unless enjoined, will continue to dissipate the proceeds of their Medicare fraud and other assets in their possession,” they wrote.

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