Medicare fraud and the Castro connection: Cuba’s banking ‘black hole’
The latest Medicare fraud bust here in South Florida is making it more and more difficult to turn a blind eye to the obvious involvement of the Castro dictatorship's international crime syndicate (AKA, the Cuban government).
Miami money-laundering case spotlights link between Medicare fraud and Cuba’s national bank
Oscar Sánchez, the man charged with laundering Medicare money and diverting it to Cuba, may be just one player in a very large web, authorities say.
Oscar L. Sánchez, a Cuban immigrant with little education, helped revolutionize Miami’s Medicare rackets through a storefront check-cashing business that enabled various criminals to launder $63 million from the United States through a web of overseas accounts into Cuba’s national bank, authorities say.
Sánchez allegedly plotted with Medicare fraud offenders and other criminals to divert the dirty money through more than a dozen shell companies’ bank accounts in Canada and Trinidad. The laundered money was ultimately funneled in transfers of $100,000 or more from a Trinidad bank’s Havana branch into the Banco Nacional de Cuba, according to federal authorities.
FBI agents and prosecutors are trying to figure out who received the money in Cuba — Medicare fraud fugitives, other criminals, government officials or all of the above? Or was the money moved offshore again to other countries? As authorities try to trace the money, they’re putting the squeeze on Sánchez to flip on other possible co-conspirators who collaborated with him in South Florida, Canada, Trinidad and Cuba.
Sánchez was charged last month with conspiring to launder millions of Medicare funds for 70 South Florida healthcare companies in an unprecedented indictment that shook Miami, Washington, D.C. and Havana. Sánchez, 46, a naturalized U.S. citizen who lived with his wife in Naples, pleaded not guilty and was ordered detained before trial.
Sánchez’s defense attorney, Peter Raben, described his client as “a simple, hard-working guy.”
“The likelihood that he revolutionized anything is less than zero,” Raben told The Miami Herald.
The Sánchez case has revealed deep flaws in the Medicare program and the international banking system. The defendant is accused of conspiring with a “syndicate of international money launderers” that used fraudulent Medicare profits as collateral to pay South Florida healthcare scammers cash and also move money into Cuba’s banking system to hide it.
What drove this underground banking syndicate? Since the mid-1990s, waves of Cuban migrants have learned myriad ways to fleece the taxpayer-funded healthcare program for the elderly and disabled. Meanwhile, about 150 suspects have fled back to the communist island and other parts of Latin America to evade prosecution, according to the FBI and court records.
A former Miami federal prosecutor who helped lead the crackdown on Medicare fraud in recent years said fugitives flee to Cuba because its government never turns over criminals to U.S. authorities. And because the fugitives can protect their Medicare millions.
“The money trail ends there,” said Washington, D.C., attorney Ben Curtis.
Andy Gomez, a senior fellow at the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuba and Cuban-American Studies, echoed that view, saying that “once the money gets to Cuba, it goes into a black hole.”
Gomez, like many others, believes the Cuban government extorts the criminals who go back and forth between South Florida and the island. But he also now believes the Sánchez case shows that Cuba has been “directly involved” in the money laundering of Medicare millions.
“Sánchez didn’t have the sophistication and knowledge to run this operation,” said Gomez, who speculated that a Cuban intelligence handler must have met with him and given him instructions. “He couldn’t do this on his own.”
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