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Thursday, January 24, 2013
CLINIC DIRECTOR SENTENCED TO 70 MONTHS IN PRISON FOR PART IN HIV INFUSION FRAUD SCHEME
Former Miami Clinic Director Sentenced to 70 Months in Prison for Role in HIV Infusion Fraud Scheme
A former Miami HIV infusion clinic director was sentenced today to serve 70 months in prison for his role in a $26.2 million HIV infusion fraud scheme, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer of the Criminal Division, U.S. Wifredo A. Ferrer of the Southern District of Florida, Acting Special Agent in Charge Michael B. Steinbach of the FBI’s Miami Field Office and Special Agent in Charge Christopher B. Dennis of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), Office of Investigations Miami office.
Enrique Gonzalez, 67, formerly of Miami, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga in the Southern District of Florida. In addition to his prison term, Judge Altonaga sentenced Gonzalez to serve three years of supervised release and ordered him to pay $17,590,896 in restitution to HHS.
On Nov. 13, 2012, Gonzalez pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, to cause the submission of false claims, and to pay health care kickbacks, and one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud.
Gonzalez admitted that between August 2002 and March 2004, he conspired with co-defendant Ronald Harris, a Miami physician, and alleged co-conspirators to operate Physicians Med-Care and Physicians Health (together the "Physicians Clinics"), two Miami HIV infusion clinics. According to court documents, the Physicians Clinics were owned and controlled by alleged co-conspirators Carlos Benitez and his brother Luis Benitez. The Physicians Clinics purported to specialize in treating patients with HIV, but were operated for the sole purpose of committing Medicare fraud, according to court documents. Gonzalez was a director of Physicians Med-Care and, at the direction of his co-conspirators, was responsible for the finances of the Physicians Clinics.
Gonzalez admitted that he agreed with his co-conspirators to handle the finances for the Physicians Clinics, moving the money paid by the Medicare program out of the Physicians Clinics’ accounts and into accounts owned and controlled by his co-conspirators. According to court documents, Harris signed blank checks that Gonzalez used to transfer funds to various Benitez-owned entities and others, as directed by his co-conspirators. In addition, Gonzalez agreed to provide cash to various co-conspirators at the Physicians Clinics to be used to pay bribes and kickbacks to the Medicare beneficiaries in return for those beneficiaries allowing the Physicians Clinics to bill the Medicare program for HIV infusion services that were not medically necessary and often not provided.
Gonzalez admitted that during his association with Physicians Med-Care, the clinic billed the Medicare program approximately $24.5 million in HIV infusion therapy claims, for which the clinic received $16.7 million in payments. Gonzalez also admitted that during his time with Physicians Health, the clinic billed Medicare approximately $1.7 million and received approximately $800,000 in payment from the Medicare program for fraudulent services.
Gonzalez was a fugitive from justice from the time of his indictment in 2008, until he was located and detained in Peru in late 2011. Gonzalez was extradited to the United States in July of 2012. Gonzalez’ daughter, Carmen Gonzalez, was indicted in a related case and is currently a fugitive.
Co-defendant Harris pleaded guilty on Aug. 26, 2008, to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, to cause the submission of false claims and to pay health care kickbacks; one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud; and three counts of submitting false claims to the Medicare program. Harris pleaded guilty in connection with his role as the medical director for the Physicians Clinics. On Nov. 4, 2008, Harris was sentenced to serve 84 months in prison for his role in the scheme.
Carlos and Luis Benitez and Thomas McKenzie were charged separately with health care fraud and money laundering crimes in an indictment unsealed on June 11, 2008. According to the separate indictment, the defendants provided the money and staff necessary to open the Physicians Clinics, the Medicare patients that the clinics needed to bill the Medicare program and transportation for the HIV patients who visited the clinics. Carlos and Luis Benitez and McKenzie were charged for their role in committing approximately $109 million in HIV infusion fraud and money laundering through the Physicians Clinics and nine other HIV infusion clinics.
On Sept. 18, 2008, McKenzie pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and one count of submitting false claims to the Medicare program, and admitted to his role in a $119 million HIV infusion fraud scheme. On Dec. 18, 2008, McKenzie was sentenced to serve 14 years in prison.
Carlos and Luis Benitez are also fugitives. Anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of the fugitives is urged to contact HHS-OIG fugitive reporting phone line at 888-476-4453.
The defendants who have not been convicted are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
The Physicians Med-Care and Physicians Health case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney N. Nathan Dimock of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. The case was investigated by the FBI and the DHS Office of Inspector General.
The case was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, supervised by the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida. The Department also thanks the Peruvian National Police Interpol Unit for their assistance.
Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, now operating in nine cities across the country, has charged more than 1,480 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $4.8 billion. In addition, HHS’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with HHS-OIG, is taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.