State: Haitian American cancer awareness group founder bilked taxpayers

Authorities say founder of group to help Haitian-American women pocketed nearly $300,000 but did few cancer screenings.

07/23/2014 6:41 PM

07/23/2014 7:46 PM

Jacques Calixte ran a much-lauded publicly funded organization purporting to help Haitian American women detect cancer.

Florida authorities on Wednesday pronounced it a sham, saying Calixte billed the state for nearly $400,000 — but arranged hardly any actual breast cancer screenings for at-risk women.

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, Jeff Atwater, called Calixte’s actions “unconscionable.”

The alleged scam led to Calixte’s arrest on charges of grand theft, aggravated white collar crime and communications fraud. The 44-year-old previously had been hailed for his work as founder and operator of Miami’s Haitian American Association against Cancer, which was supposed to arrange and pay clinics to perform breast cancer screenings for women.

According to state investigators, Calixte provided phony bank statements, payroll checks and healthcare reports to Florida’s Department of Health, which had given the group hundreds of thousands of dollars between January 2011 and June 2013.

But a review of his finances showed Calixte spent as little as $16,000 on actual client screenings in 2011. In 2012 and 2013, there was no evidence of expenditures for clinical screenings or testing for Haitian American woman “as required by the contracts,” according to Florida Department of Financial Services.

In all, Calixte is accused of stealing at least $287,000 in state money.

“I am proud of our investigators for their work to put this selfish fraudster behind bars where he belongs,” Atwater said in a press release.

Calixte was in jail late Wednesday and had no listed lawyer in court records. According to an arrest warrant, he admitted falsifying some records but insisted he had helped many women, often using his own money.

He was featured in a Miami Herald profile in 2005 for his work at the association, which he founded with the help of prominent Haitian-American physician Rudolph Moise.

Moise, a former chairman of the association and a two-time congressional candidate, was out of the country and did not respond to text messages seeking comment.

Calixte’s story, on its face, was powerful. A former accountant, Calixte lost his mother to breast cancer in 1995 after she initially turned to Haitian folk remedies instead of doctors.

“She wasn't educated about cancer. She noticed a lump on her breast. It took her a long time to decide to go for a checkup,” he told The Miami Herald. “Doctors recommended a lumpectomy. But she waited. By the time she decided to go back and have the biopsy and remove the lump, the cancer had spread.'”

Two years later, he created the association geared toward increasing breast-cancer awareness among Haitian women, conducting screenings and helping them navigate them medical system.

The group, which has an office in Wynwood, operated with a $400,000 annual budget, he told the Miami Herald. The money came from the Centers for Disease Control and from grants and private donations.

“'I realized that there is the American Cancer Association, and there is La Liga Contra El Cancer, which aids Hispanics. But there was no group that specifically reached out to the Haitian community, in its own language,” he told the Herald. “As the second-largest immigrant group in South Florida, it needed its own organization. So I reached out to a few community leaders.”

In 2005, Bank of America awarded the group a $5,000 grant as part of its “Local Heroes” initiative.

But in August 2013, a health department contract manager discovered that the center had moved its office “because of a lack of funds.”

An audit was launched. According to an arrest warrant, Calixte then supplied reams of billing, employee, patient and bank records. But the documents “were mostly fraudulent and fabricated,” investigator William Geier wrote in his warrant.

Clinics named in the documents had never performed screenings on women sent to them through Calixte’s group – and signatures of doctors on forms were forged, according to the state. Investigators also determined that “most of the women could not be established as being real people.”

Before filing charges, state authorities gave Calixte a chance to explain what happened and pay back the money.

He admitted to filing fake documents, but insisted that “he had helped many women and had put his own money into the program and paid many of the expenses out of his pocket.”

As for the patients who could not identified, Calixte swore the woman “use false names sometimes.”

He even insisted that the Department of Health owed him money. But a review of his bank records showed he used thousands of dollars on everything from car repairs, dry cleaning, his mortgage – and even $2,150 on art work.

“When mammograms and early cancer screenings are matters of life and death for low-income women, stealing the money intended to save their lives is a new low,” said Miami Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.

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