Nearly a decade ago, opening a phony HIV clinic to rip off Medicare was no problem: To pull it off, the Miami ringleaders would simply recruit immigrants as straw owners to provide cover for them, authorities say.
The “straws” would come over, pose as corporate officers to protect the real owners’ identities, then often go back to Cuba.
One of them, Juan Carralero, allegedly did just that — but he got busted by the FBI earlier this month after he tried to return while crossing the Mexico-California border in late January. Carralero, 60, who is being transferred from San Diego, faces a 2009 indictment charging him with assisting a Miami-based HIV-clinic racket that aimed to bilk $100 million from the taxpayer-funded Medicare program.
The leader of the massive medical scam in Miami-Dade and other parts of the Southeast admitted that he recruited three Cubans “with the understanding that the ‘straw' owners’ would flee to Cuba to avoid law enforcement detection or capture,” according to court records.
Michel De Jesus Huarte pleaded guilty in 2009 to fraud charges and was sentenced to 22 years in prison. His accused recruits — Carralero, Orlin Tamayo-Quinones and Madelin Barbara Machado — were suspected of having fled to Cuba, according to the FBI.
Huarte's accused business partner, Ramon Fonseca, is believed to be in Venezuela.
Since 2008, Carralero and more than 30 other defendants have been captured by the FBI and Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General, with the pace of arrests beginning to pick up in 2013.
There are still another 150 fugitives from outstanding Medicare fraud cases in South Florida, most of them Cuban-born immigrants who fled to Cuba, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and other Spanish-speaking countries to evade federal trials. View more of the fugitives in The Miami Herald’s database.
With the exception of Cuba, several foreign countries with U.S. extradition treaties have assisted federal authorities with making arrests and returning fugitives to the United States. But usually, the fugitives get caught when they attempt to re-enter the United States.
The HIV-clinic scheme run by Huarte started in Miami but expanded to Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina and South Carolina by using empty storefronts and post office boxes, according to an indictment.
The 10-person racket, which operated from 2005 to 2009, stood apart from others in Miami-Dade at the time. It exploited not only Medicare but also private insurers that administered the government entitlement program under the Medicare Advantage plan. Overall, the ring collected about $30 million in fraudulent payments from 36 sham clinics spread across five states.
Court records show that Carralero was listed as the CEO, registered agent and secretary for two of those clinics, Comprehensive Medical and Best Care, in Georgia.