Cuban Criminals Exploit 1966 Law to Commit Health Care Fraud and other Financial Crimes
A law that gives Cubans favored immigration status available to residents of no other country has been used by criminals from the island nation to defraud Medicare and insurance companies, as well as commit other financial crimes.
An investigation by the South Florida Sun Sentinel showed that Cubans use provisions of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 to facilitate their crimes. The law provides that, unlike citizens of other countries, Cubans are allowed to enter the United States without visas or background checks and are given permanent resident status after one year and one day. Those from other countries can wait years and even decades for their green cards.
That access to the United States has made Cubans the leaders in Medicare fraud. Those born in Cuba represent less than 1% of the U.S. population but commit 41% of Medicare fraud, according a Sun Sentinel analysis of court records.
These criminals take the money they’ve collected in the United States back to Cuba, where they live in luxury and have no fear of being pursued by U.S. law enforcement. There is an extradition treaty between the United States and Cuba that predates Communist rule there, but neither side adheres to it.
One man, Jorge Emilio Pérez de Morales Sante, is wanted by federal authorities for defrauding $238 million from Medicare. He lives openly in Havana.
Even when criminals are caught, they serve short sentences. The average prison term has only recently increased to four years from three. “The possibility of profiting five, six, seven or $8 million for a very small jail sentence is awfully enticing,” Alex Acosta, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, told the Sun Sentinel.
The crime rings are highly organized—and efficient. One group opened a home health-care agency in Miami in 2010 and within three days submitted $1.5 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare.
Other offenses committed by Cuban crime rings include insurance fraud in which claims are sought by bogus auto accident victims and buying gift cards with fraudulent credit cards. The low-level crooks who buy the cards are paid 30 cents on the dollar for handing them over to the crime rings. Other groups run marijuana grow houses.
Nor is this a recent phenomenon. A 2011 report by the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami highlighted the prevalence of Medicare fraud, estimating that it had cost the federal government $60 billion in 2009. The report suggested that the Cuban government takes a cut of the criminals’ take to allow them to remain in the country.
To Learn More:
Plundering America: The Cuban Criminal Pipeline (by Megan O'Matz, Sally Kestin and John Maines, South Florida Sun Sentinel)
The Cuban Government and Multi-Million Dollar Medicare Fraud in South Florida (by Vanessa Lopez, Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami)
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