The younger brother of a fugitive money man accused of laundering $238 million in dirty Medicare dollars from Florida into Cuba’s banking system was sentenced Wednesday to 3 1/2 years in prison.
Eduardo Perez de Morales, 27, of Miami, got a slight break from U.S. District Judge William Zloch because he was barely an adult when his brother recruited him into the alleged international laundering scheme nearly a decade ago.
Perez, who has been in custody since his arrest last year, apologized to the judge in Fort Lauderdale federal court. He admitted that he continued to collaborate with his older brother because of greed, even after recognizing that their partnership was illegal.
Perez’s defense attorney said the older brother “ruined” his client’s life.
“Mr. Perez concedes that he eventually knew that he was involved in a scheme to launder monies, but by then he was in too deep and did not withdraw from the conspiracy as he should have,” attorney Gustavo Lage wrote in a court filing.
Perez helped his 50-year-old brother, Jorge Emilio Perez de Morales, wash the Medicare millions by using a Caribbean-based remittance company to pay off Medicare fraud offenders in the United States in exchange for transferring their tainted healthcare profits to Cuba, according to an indictment.
The “massive money laundering operation,” as described by a federal prosecutor, was unprecedented because it marked the first U.S. case connecting South Florida's Medicare rackets to Cuba’s national bank.
Eduardo Perez’s plea agreement, struck in November, held him responsible for laundering only between $1 million and $2.5 million, a range that limited his prison time to a maximum of six years on his single money-laundering conspiracy conviction.
Prosecutor H. Ron Davidson sought about five years in prison, while Perez’s defense attorney argued for half that time. Zloch, the judge, compromised.
Jorge Perez, a half-brother, is accused of directing the money-laundering operation through his Cuba-licensed remittance company, Caribbean Transfers, from 2005 to 2011. He owns a seaside home in Havana but could be in Mexico, the Dominican Republic or Spain, according to the FBI. Davidson called Jorge Perez’s remittance company, which closed after his indictment in 2012, an offshore Western Union.
Caribbean Transfers provided clean cash — amassed from Cuban exiles sending money to relatives on the island — to corrupt healthcare operators in Florida, Michigan, Tennessee and New York, according to the indictment.
Jorge Perez’s role was uncovered after a convicted Naples check-cashing store owner, Oscar L. Sanchez, fingered him as the man who bankrolled his Florida business and other remittance agencies. The prosecutor said those stateside businesses cashed checks or wired money for Medicare-fraud offenders — then transferred their dirty dollars through Jorge Perez’s shell companies in Canada via Trinidad to Cuba.
At first, investigators estimated that Sanchez laundered more than $30 million on behalf of 70 corrupt Medicare-licensed businesses through December 2006. But the estimated total grew almost eightfold, as they discovered that Caribbean Transfers later financed other check-cashing and remittance businesses involved in the alleged money-laundering scheme.
Eduardo Perez would play the role of his older brother’s “bag man,” delivering “large amounts of cash” to another unnamed check casher who was laundering money for Medicare fraud offenders, according to the prosecutor, Davidson.
The Medicare money could have been disbursed as remittances to Cuban families or to others living on the island. “The location of hundreds of millions of dollars is unknown, and a vast fortune is likely sitting in a Communist country,” Davidson wrote in court papers.
Because the FBI has been unable to locate Jorge Perez, the younger brother’s former defense attorney suggested in federal court that he was being indicted solely to lure the accused fugitive ringleader to the United States.
If he gets the opportunity to testify against the older brother, Eduardo Perez could see his sentence reduced substantially.