The Department of Justice this week announced a nationwide crackdown on Medicare fraud that snagged 107 people for an alleged $452 million in false billing. The Department of Health and Human Services reported it was the largest group of false billings targeted at one time in the history of their Medicare Fraud Strike Force -- and there were more cases in South Florida than in the rest of the country combined.
The charges range from health-care fraud to money laundering and affect all kinds of health-care businesses -- ambulance services, nursing homes, halfway houses, and mental health services, just for starters.
Of the 107 charged this week, court records show 59 of them were charged in Miami federal court. Many -- including ten from the Health Care Solutions Network accused of stealing $63 million -- were from Miami, but several involved businesses around Fort Lauderdale. Expect more detail going forward, but here are the Broward cases, many of which look to be tied to one Miami company:
-- Maritza Lorza and James Velasco are accused of laundering money through four of their Broward-based businesses: Celebration Home Services Inc., 4 All Your Needs Inc., VPP Staffing Inc., and Work Force Innovations Co.
-- Orlando Piedra is accused of laundering more than $500,000 through his company, Medi Health Consultants.
-- Hassan Collins operated several Broward halfway houses through New Way Recovery, his corporation based on the 1600 block of NW 11th Court. He's accused of taking kickbacks in exchange for referring Medicare patients to...
-- Marianella Valera, owner of the Miami-based American Therapeutic Corp. She's accused of sending thousands of dollars to assisted-living facilities, halfway houses, and "patient recruiters" in exchange for patients getting sent to her business.
-- Another man charged with taking ATC kickbacks is Giuseppe Pellerito, who owns Florida Sober House, a company based in Hollywood that runs several halfway houses.
-- Ditto Bobby Ramnarine, who ran Elmina's Assisted Living Facility on the 5900 block of 19th Court in Lauderhill. He's accused of not only receiving kickbacks but of submitting false claims to Medicare "for services that were medically unnecessary, that were not eligible for Medicare reimbursement, and that were never provided."
-- Same for Jean-Luc Veraguas, who ran Neu Ways, a company that ran eight halfway houses from its headquarters in Plantation: Investigators say Veraguas sent patients to ATC just because they were eligible for Medicare.