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Judge re-sets detention hearing for Miami actor, wife accused in $15 million Medicare fraud case

Roberto F. Marrero made his name as an actor who played bit parts in shows such as Miami Vice and as a TV entrepreneur who launched a cable station featuring Cuban cultural programs.

But according to federal prosecutors, Marrero led a con man’s life as the owner of a Medicare-licensed home healthcare agency that fleeced $15 million from the government program. Marrero, prosecutors say, spent the ill-gotten gains on luxury cars, his cable business, Cubana de Television, and many trips to Cuba and Mexico.

On Wednesday, prosecutors had planned to ask a federal magistrate judge to detain Marrero, 59, and his wife, Sandra Fernandez Viera, 49, before the couple faces trial on Medicare fraud charges. But lawyers for the couple said they needed more time, so U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick White re-set the hearing for June 11.

Jose Quiñon, the husband’s lawyer, and Leonard Sands, representing the wife, said that they were still trying to work out how they would be paid by their clients because the U.S. government has frozen their assets.

Earlier this month, the couple, former owners of Trust Care Health Services in Miami, were charged with conspiring to submit bogus bills to the taxpayer-funded Medicare program for purported skilled nursing and physical therapy services for supposedly homebound diabetic patients.

Justice Department prosecutor Brendan Stewart asserted in a detention motion that Marrero and his wife were born in Cuba, have family ties there and have traveled frequently to the island nation. Stewart noted that Marrero has traveled more than 40 times to Cuba or Mexico since 2007, the start of his alleged theft from the Medicare program.

The couple’s “access to substantial financial resources, including millions in missing proceeds from the fraud at Trust Care, makes them an especially high flight risk,” Stewart wrote.

In the motion, Stewart said Trust Care’s bank records show a series of checks and other transfers to Marrero totaling $5.5 million and $400,000 to his wife.

In addition, Marrero moved large sums from Trust Care to other companies, including $3 million to Cubana de Television, $800,000 to Miami Vision International and $400,000 to Noche Cubana Supper Club, according to the motion.

Also, Marrero spent another $1 million on a fleet of fancy cars, including Lamborghinis, a Ferrari and a Bentley, and an additional $2 million on real estate, including a six-bedroom, six-bath home with a pool in the Roads section of Miami.

Stewart noted that federal agents have only been able to locate a “fraction” of Medicare’s payments to Marreo and his wife. In a separate civil action, prosecutors are seeking to freeze the couple’s assets and bank accounts.

Quiñon says he plans to challenge the government’s no-bond position, arguing Marrero has strong ties to the community. His wife’s attorney, Sands, says he, 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.”

According to his résumé, Marrero comes from a family of actors in Cuba. It says he has had roles in soap operas and lists bit parts in television shows, including America’s Most Wanted and Unsolved Mysteries.

In 2008, he opened his cable TV studio in Allapattah and later moved the operation to Miami Beach. It has stopped providing programming since Marrero and his wife’s arrests in mid-May.

They were charged with conspiring to submit $20 million in bogus bills to Medicare for purported home healthcare services for diabetic patients. Medicare, known for its lax oversight of operators and their bills, approved most of the couple’s claims.

The couple was 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.

Marrero and his wife were co-owners of Trust Care 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 with valuable Medicare cards. Rodriguez, accused of bribing patients, was also charged in the indictment.

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