A Miami psychiatrist who became a national symbol of over-prescribing was indicted this week by a federal grand jury for allegedly running a racket that defrauded numerous public programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, the Social Security Administration and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The psychiatrist, Dr. Fernando Mendez-Villamil, 48, and three other Miami-Dade residents whom he employed in his Coral Way office, were charged with an elaborate scheme to provide false diagnoses of debilitating psychiatric conditions that allowed numerous people to fraudulently qualify for Social Security disability benefits, Medicare and Medicaid, and to be exempted from testing requirements for becoming naturalized U.S. citizens, according to the grand jury indictment filed in Miami federal court on Thursday.
Mendez-Villamil and two of the three defendants he employed — Maritza Exposito, 57, and Yomara Vila, 45, of Miami — then filed fraudulent claims with Medicaid and Medicare for prescriptions and medical services that were unnecessary to create bogus records that supported fraudulent diagnoses, the indictment alleged.
A third employee, Arnaldo Oscar Jimenez, 57, of Hialeah, also allegedly recruited individuals who wanted to fraudulently obtain Social Security disability benefits.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
According to the indictment, Mendez-Villamil also provided false statements to Citizenship and Immigration Services that allowed several individuals, including Exposito and Vila, to be exempted from English and civics testing requirements for becoming naturalized citizens.
Exposito, Jimenez and Vila were Medicaid beneficiaries, the indictment alleges, though Jimenez and Vila also received Social Security disability benefits.
In a separate scheme, Mendez-Villamil, Exposito, Jimenez and Vila also defrauded Citizenship and Immigration Services about the marriage of two unnamed individualsto secure immigration benefits, the indictment alleges.
Mendez-Villamil offered to help one of the unnamed individuals fraudulently obtain disability benefits in exchange for that individual entering into a bogus marriage for immigration purposes, according to the grand jury’s complaint.
The indictment states the alleged racket occurred from about 2002 through fall 2013, though other instances of fraud are alleged to have occurred as recently as November 2015.
Mendez-Villamil could not be reached at his office on Coral Way Friday afternoon, and his office answering machine was full and not accepting messages.
This is not the first time Mendez-Villamil has attracted the attention of federal and state officials, who had been watching him since about 2004.
In fall 2013, he received a reprimand and $15,000 fine from the Florida Board of Medicine, which found he inappropriately prescribed medications at an inordinate rate and failed to meet professional standards, such as keeping concise patient records.
But the Miami psychiatrist first came to the public’s attention when U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, penned a letter to federal healthcare officials noting that a single prescriber had written 96,685 prescriptions from late 2007 through early 2009 for Medicaid patients.
If convicted, Mendez-Villamil and other defendants will be required to forfeit to the federal government any property derived from their alleged fraud, including Mendez-Villamil’s South Miami home, which is valued at $1.1 million, and the office building that he owns on Coral Way, which is valued at about $620,000.