‘Papo’ stole millions from Medicare, bought properties in Cuba. Guess what came next

Cubans exchange Cuban peso (CUP) and convertible peso (CUC) notes.
Cubans exchange Cuban peso (CUP) and convertible peso (CUC) notes. AFP/Getty Images

Orelvis Olivera Amador, a Cuba native and South Florida resident known as “Papo,” defrauded Medicare out of $7.3 million and used the money to buy properties on the island in the name of relatives and friends.

Olivera Amador was convicted in a federal court in Miami in 2014 and was sentenced to six years in prison and three more on parole. He also was ordered to pay more than $5.7 million in restitution.

What he apparently never expected was that authorities in Cuba would seize his properties and convict his fake property owners after his crimes in Miami became known.

“Under Decree-Law No. 149, the illegal assets confiscated were valued at 6.4 million pesos in the national currency,” Cuban news media reported earlier this month. Among the properties seized were four homes and one vehicle. Also seized were a bank account with 4,516 Cuban convertible pesos (CUCs, roughly equivalent to a U.S. dollar); two other bank accounts with 151,228 national pesos; and 4,090 CUCs and 550 euros in cash.

A court in Olivera Amador’s native province of Sancti Spíritus, in central Cuba, cleared only one of the 14 people accused in the scheme. The other front buyers knew where the money was coming from because of their “close and family ties,” the court declared as it imposed sentences that ranged from a 2,000 peso fine to 10 years in prison.

One of the restaurants of Orelvis Olivera Amador in Sancti Spíritus. The money for the investment was obtained by defrauding Medicare. Courtesy

Olivera Amador was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison and his main front man on the island, Brian Rangel Pérez, was sentenced to six years.

The Cuban news media reported that Olivera Amador left Cuba for Panama in 2005 and entered the United States under the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which offered immediate refuge to Cubans who set foot on U.S. territory. That policy was rescinded by former President Barack Obama in 2017.

Olivera Amador reportedly traveled back to Cuba 26 times between August 2007 to July 2014, while his mother and niece also traveled frequently to the United States with U.S. visas. Cuban authorities said they believe that’s how “Papo” managed to bring into the island the money he stole from Medicare without declaring it.

Casa Amador, una de las viviendas adquiridas con el lavado de millones de dólares defraudados al Medicare en Estados Unidos. Courtesy

His company, Acclaim Home Health Care Inc., charged Medicare for services it never provided.

According to the indictment, the agency claimed to provide home health care and physical therapy services to Medicare beneficiaries. Olivera Amador allegedly paid kickbacks to patient recruiters in return for the recruiters’ referral of Medicare beneficiaries to the agency. In addition, Olivera Amador allegedly solicited and received kickbacks in return for referring Medicare beneficiaries to other Miami-based home health care agencies.

During those years, Olivera Amador bought and remodeled a number of homes on the island, turning some into private restaurants known as paladares and others into rooms-to-let hostels. He opened Papo’s Paladar in his neighborhood of Zaza del Medio in Sancti Spíritus and the Casa Amador hostel in Havana’s central Vedado area.

He also defrauded the Cuban electricity company, stealing power for two of his businesses, Cuban authorities said. For that crime, he was fined 197,694 pesos, equivalent to about $7,900 US dollars.

Cases of Cuban Americans who defraud Medicare, credit cards and others and then flee to Cuba with the money have been a longtime issue, particularly in Miami.

One of the more high-profile cases on the island happened in 2016 and involved Gilberto Martínez Suárez, a reggaeton singer known as Gilbert Man. He pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars in a credit card scam, fled to the island and built a luxurious home in Guanabacoa on the outskirts of Havana.

He was sentenced in Cuba to 17 years in prison for money laundering, false statements, tax evasion, theft of electricity, bribery, kidnapping and illegal economic activities.

Follow Mario J. Pentón on Twitter: @mariojose_cuba

Karolina Guillen is a Cuban journalist who is in Miami on a fellowship funded by the Knight Foundation.