While the Department of Health was investigating a Hialeah doctor for the way he prescribed drugs for a heroin addict, Hialeah police say a former office staffer was conning the doctor out of $464,000.
Arrested on June 26 for the alleged con were 25-year-old Vanesa Diaz and her 60-year-old mother Zoila Abadal. Diaz pleaded not guilty to one count of grand theft and posted $20,000 bond. Abadal pleaded not guilty to one count of accessory after the fact of a second-degree felony and is still in custody.
The summer arrests stemmed from what police reports say was a costly winter and spring for the Hialeah doctor.
Hialeah police say Diaz was working a variation of a lottery ticket scam on Dr. Scott Halperin, which turned into a months-long saga.
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Instead of a tale about a winning lottery ticket she couldn’t cash, Diaz, who had done clerical work for Halperin in 2007, allegedly went to the doctor in December claiming she was about to win a lawsuit against General Motors over her car exploding. But she needed to pay her lawyer.
Her original offer: If Halperin gave her the cash for the lawyer, she’d give him a chunk of what promised to be a $1.5 million lawsuit. According to Diaz’s arrest affidavit, Halperin withdrew $14,000 as the first installment of cash that grew to $256,500 by the end of January.
When Halperin, 60, started asking for documentation of Diaz’s claims, Diaz texted an image of a bogus $295,000 check made out to her from Greg Chonillo, who she said was her lawyer in the lawsuit. The memo line read “insurance settlement.” She brought Halperin a letter on Feb. 8 from “Greg Chonillo and Associates,” stating Diaz would pay Halperin $1.95 million after she received an additional $2 million from GM as part of the settlement. Diaz also would do a commercial for GM on the lawsuit settlement.
But the commercial would be shot in Houston. Meaning, the letter said, Diaz needed another $165,000 for expenses and lawyer fees from Halperin as a last payment.
Already, others saw red flags. The number and volume of withdrawals from Halperin’s Dade County Federal Credit Union account roused a fraud manager’s suspicion. She called Halperin, who mentioned Chonillo in explaining the withdrawals. The fraud manager called Chonillo, the head of Coral Gables’ The Chonillo Law Group — not “Greg Chonillo and Associates.” Soon, both were on the phone to Hialeah police. But, a Feb. 15 Hialeah police report says, the fraud manager’s explanation of the scam couldn’t convince Halperin that he was being conned.
Two days later, on Feb. 17, Halperin showed up at the credit union to withdraw $165,000. The fraud manager talked Halperin out of it and called Hialeah police. Officers who talked with Halperin wrote in their report that Halperin answered all questions “without hesitation” and “appeared to be of sound body and mind and stated he was full aware of the fact that he was voluntarily giving Ms. Diaz the money (of) his own accord.”
The report said Halperin expected Diaz to give him $1 million from the lawsuit money, but he just wanted Diaz to return all his money.
Diaz’s arrest report claims she put Halperin off when he asked for a return on some of his money. Instead of a return, he got another request: $70,000. On May 4, Diaz’s “lawyer” texted Halperin that the case had been settled and he had the checks. Halperin asked for receipts to account for the cash he’d given Diaz. The “lawyer” said he’d need another $50,000 before he could release those. If he didn’t get the $50,000, he might have to go back to court. Diaz might lose everything and, therefore, so would Halperin.
Halperin asked for the lawyer’s business address. The “lawyer” said he couldn’t give Halperin that out of protection for his client, but Halperin could get it from Diaz. Despite repeated pleading from Diaz, her arrest report says, Halperin withheld the $50,000.
Halperin’s refusal came days after the Department of Health filed an administrative complaint against him for his treatment of patient “T.D.” from 2011-15. The complaint says Halperin kept inadequate medical records showing he performed basic tests or examinations; wrote prescriptions for Methadone, Subutex and Xanax without proper exams or tests or at least documenting those tests; and failed to meet minimum standard of care requirements in several ways, including ignoring that T.D. tested positive for heroin four times during the four years.
Halperin, a Florida-licensed doctor since 1986, is contesting the charges, Department of Health Deputy Press Secretary Brad Dalton said in an email to the Miami Herald. Halperin didn’t return several phone calls from the Herald.
Diaz, who has convictions on 2013 charges of grand theft auto, burglary, kidnapping and strong arm robbery, gave up her scheme in a June 13 interview at the state attorney’s office.
She cast her mother, Abadal, as the designer and coach who directed Diaz on what to say to coax money from Halperin, according to her arrest report. Abadal, she said, wrote the letter from “Greg Chonillo and Associates.”
She then called Abadal to discuss the scheme with the state attorney’s office listening. Abadal’s arrest report says she admitted on the call getting money from Diaz. After getting the money in a brown paper bag from Halperin, Diaz claimed she would pass most of the cash to Abadal.
She said she didn’t know what Abadal did with it.