WASHINGTON – Two sisters who owned a fraudulent Detroit-area medical clinic and who are former “Most Wanted” health care fraud fugitives were each sentenced in Miami today to 14 years in prison for their leading roles in a $9.1 million Medicare fraud scheme, announced the Department of Justice, the FBI and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Caridad Guilarte, 54, and Clara Guilarte, 57, were sentenced by U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga in the Southern District of Florida. The Guilartes were also sentenced to three years of supervised release and were ordered to pay approximately $6 million in restitution, jointly with co-defendants.
The Guilartes pleaded guilty on Aug. 24, 2011, to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. The sisters were charged in an indictment unsealed in June 2009 in the Eastern District of Michigan. After fleeing the United States to Panama and then Venezuela to avoid arrest, they were placed on the HHS-Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) Most Wanted Fugitives list. They were arrested on March 13, 2011, by law enforcement authorities in Colombia and were returned to the United States on March 14, 2011. The Guilartes consented to have their cases transferred to the Southern District of Florida for plea and sentencing. As part of her plea, Caridad Guilarte agreed to forfeit approximately $465,000, which was seized by the FBI as part of its investigation.
According to court documents, the Guilartes opened Dearborn Medical Rehabilitation Center (DMRC) in November 2005 solely for the purpose of defrauding Medicare. DMRC purported to be an infusion clinic that administered infusions of exotic and expensive medications to patients suffering serious illnesses, such as HIV and Hepatitis-C. Between November 2005 and March 2007, DMRC submitted more than $9 million in claims to Medicare for infusion treatments and related services.
The Guilartes admitted that they purchased only a small fraction of the medications billed to Medicare. The Medicare beneficiaries who visited DMRC did not need infusion treatments, but instead came to DMRC because they were bribed to do so with the payment of cash kickbacks. The Guilartes recruited a number of individuals to assist them in defrauding Medicare, including beneficiary recruiters, who paid cash kickbacks, and a doctor, to give the clinic an appearance of legitimacy.
Medicare paid in excess of $6 million to DMRC. The Guilartes laundered the proceeds of the fraud through various co-conspirators and a series of shell corporations, which had no legitimate business function. More than 10 individuals have pleaded guilty to health care fraud and/or money laundering in connection with the DMRC scheme.
The sentencing was announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Barbara L. McQuade; U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Wifredo Ferrer; Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Detroit Field Office Andrew G. Arena; Special Agent in Charge Lamont Pugh III of the HHS-OIG’s Chicago Regional Office.
The cases were prosecuted by Acting Assistant Chief Benjamin D. Singer of the Fraud Section in the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Philip A. Ross, and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Thomas W. Biemers. The cases were investigated by the FBI and HHS-OIG, and were 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 Eastern District of Michigan.
Since their inception in March 2007, Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations in nine locations have charged more than 1,140 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for more than $2.9 billion. In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.
To learn more about the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), go to: www.stopmedicarefraud.gov .