Soon after the feds broke up a family-run chain of clinics that tried to steal $130 million from Miami-Dade Public Schools and a string of major U.S. companies, a trio of Cuban immigrants fled to Mexico and eventually back home to the island.
For almost two years, the chain’s boss, Reynaldo Castillo, and his right-hand man, Jose Gerardo Gonzalez, hid in Cuba. Castillo and Gonzalez were wanted for their leading roles in an indictment charging a total 16 defendants with healthcare fraud in March of 2015.
Gonzalez, 26, returned to Miami last week after a fellow Cuban convicted in another healthcare fraud case helped arrange for his surrender to FBI agents at Miami International Airport. Now being held at the Federal Detention Center in downtown Miami, Gonzalez is awaiting trial in March. His defense attorney, William Barzee, declined to comment Tuesday.
Castillo, 48, still wanted in Miami, is believed to be in jail in Cuba, according to federal authorities.
A third defendant, Ezequiel Severo Casas, 30, is also suspected of having fled to Cuba almost two years ago.
Their escape to the island has become commonplace among dozens of Cuban immigrants who have joined South Florida’s healthcare rackets over the past decade. They’ve stolen hundreds of millions from the federal Medicare program, and in some cases from private insurers, then fled to the island or other Spanish-speaking countries such as Mexico. The fugitives usually get caught when they travel to a third country or return to Miami.
Almost all members of the Castillo family’s racket have struck plea deals, starting with Reynaldo’s brother, Hendris Castillo Morales, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in October 2015.
At the time, he sought a more lenient sentence from U.S. District Judge Robert Scola. But the judge pointed out that Hendris Castillo showed no remorse, repaid nothing to the victims and his brother fled to Cuba with potentially millions to avoid facing fraud charges.
FBI agents tried to contact Reynaldo Castillo by telephone after apprehending other defendants in the family’s organization.
“When informed there was an outstanding warrant for his arrest, Reynaldo Castillo hung up the telephone,” according to court documents. He traveled from Miami to Mexico and then Cuba to evade justice, according to prosecutors. Castillo has a mother and other family who live in Cuba.
Prosecutors Christopher Clark and Michelle Alvarez have sought to recover millions of dollars paid out to the defendants and to seize at least five buildings that some purchased to house their clinics.
The Castillo case is unusual because the family’s network of clinics targeted major private insurance companies that managed healthcare plans for self-insured public and private entities.
The city of Miami, Miami-Dade County Public Schools and several companies lost millions of dollars in health insurance payments as a result of being scammed by the Castillo-run clinics that submitted bogus claims for pain injections, physical therapy and other purported services, according to two indictments.
Prosecutors charged the defendants with trying to steal $130 million from the public entities, private companies and major insurers, namely Blue Cross Blue Shield, United Healthcare and Cigna.
All together, the various entities and their insurers paid out $15 million to the Castillo’s family’s healthcare network, which operated about 35 clinics in Hialeah, Doral and Miami between 2012 and 2015, according to the indictments.
Among the bilked entities: Pepsi Co., Macy's, RadioShack, BJ's Wholesale Club, Lincoln Property Company, Nextera Energy and Southeast Frozen Foods Company.
Most of those, as well as the city of Miami and Miami-Dade school system, are self-insured with healthcare plans managed by the big insurers — so the fraudulent healthcare payments came directly out of their bottom line.