WASHINGTON – Miami physician Ronald Harris, 58, was sentenced today to 84 months in prison and medical clinic administrator Mariela Rodriguez, 40, was sentenced today to 70 months in prison for defrauding the Medicare program in connection with large scale HIV infusion fraud schemes, Acting Assistant Attorney General Matthew Friedrich of the Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta of the Southern District of Florida announced.
For Harris’s role in a $26.2 million scheme, Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida ordered that he be placed on three years of supervised release following his release from prison, and pay $9,882,274 in restitution to the Medicare Trust Fund, in addition to his prison sentence.
On Aug. 26, 2008, Harris 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; 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 Physicians Med-Care and Physicians Health Med-Care (Physicians Health), two Miami-area HIV clinics that purported to provide HIV infusion services to Medicare beneficiaries.
Harris admitted during his plea hearing that between August 2002 and March 2004, he conspired with others to operate two Miami HIV infusion clinics that were owned and controlled by Carlos and Luis Benitez and that were operated for the sole purpose of committing Medicare fraud. Prior to August 2002, Harris admitted he had no prior experience with infusion therapy for HIV patients. Harris also admitted to conspiring with others to pay cash kickbacks to the Medicare beneficiaries who attended Physicians Med-Care and Physicians Health. Harris admitted that during his employment with Physicians Med-Care and Physicians Health, he approved approximately $26.2 million worth of fraudulent medical bills, signed documents containing false information about treatments purportedly provided to HIV patients and approved medically unnecessary treatments. As a result of the fraud, the Medicare program paid approximately $17.5 million in fraudulent bills.
In a separate sentencing hearing, Chief U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno in the Southern District of Florida ordered that Rodriguez also serve three years of supervised release following her release from prison and to pay $8,289,286 in restitution, in addition to her prison sentence, for her role in the HIV infusion scheme.
Rodriguez pleaded guilty on Aug. 26, 2008, to charges of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and making false declarations to a federal grand jury. Rodriguez admitted that she ran and served as the clinic administrator of Saint Jude Rehab Center (Saint Jude) for owners Carlos and Luis Benitez. She admitted that Saint Jude was operated solely for the purpose of committing Medicare fraud. Rodriguez acknowledged that she and her co-conspirators paid Medicare beneficiaries cash kickbacks of $100 to $150 to induce them to visit the clinic. Between June 2003 and November 2003, Rodriguez admitted that Saint Jude submitted claims totaling approximately $11.3 million to the Medicare program for unnecessary HIV medication. Medicare paid Saint Jude approximately $8.2 million for these fraudulent claims. Finally, Rodriguez admitted that she gave false testimony in court on June 14, 2004, when she stated under oath that she had no knowledge of Medicare beneficiaries being paid cash kickbacks at Saint Jude.
Carlos Benitez, 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, these co-conspirators allegedly provided the money and staff necessary to open the HIV clinics, the Medicare patients that the clinics would bill to the Medicare program and transportation for the HIV patients who visited the clinics. Also according the indictment, Carlos and Luis Benitez were the true owners of the clinics. The Benitez brothers and McKenzie were charged for their roles at the clinics and eight 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. The Benitez brothers remain fugitives, as does Enrique Gonzalez, Harris’ co-defendant.
The cases were prosecuted by Assistant Chief Hank Bond Walther and Trial Attorneys John K. Neal and N. Nathan Dimock of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, and were investigated by the FBI and the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of the Inspector General. The cases were brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force (MFSF), supervised by Deputy Chief Kirk Ogrosky of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and U.S. Attorney Acosta of the Southern District of Florida. Since the inception of MFSF operations in 2007, federal prosecutors have indicted 104 cases with 184 defendants in Los Angeles and Miami. Collectively, these defendants fraudulently billed the Medicare program for more than half a billion dollars.