Turkish National Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Commit Health Care and Wire Fraud in “Birth Tourism” Scheme
Defendant was Organizer of a Scheme that Caused Losses of More than $1 Million to New York State’s Medicaid Program
Earlier today, in federal court in Central Islip, Ibrahim Aksakal pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit health care and wire fraud in connection with a so-called “birth tourism” scheme in Suffolk County between approximately 2017 and 2020. The scheme facilitated pregnant Turkish women fraudulently entering the United States using tourist and business visas to give birth so that their children would obtain birthright citizenship and medical benefits. As part of his plea, Aksakal consented to the forfeiture of $397,500 as proceeds linked to his role in the scheme. Today’s proceeding was held before United States District Judge Joanna Seybert.
Jacquelyn M. Kasulis, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York; Timothy D. Sini, District Attorney for Suffolk County; Peter C. Fitzhugh, Special Agent-in-Charge, Homeland Security Investigations, New York (HSI); Scott J. Lampert, Special Agent-in-Charge, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, New York Region (HHS-OIG); Frank T. Walsh, Jr., Acting Medicaid Inspector General, New York State Office of the Medicaid Inspector General (OMIG); and Stuart Cameron, Acting Commissioner, Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD), announced the guilty plea.
“With today’s plea, Aksakal admits to an outrageous scheme in which he caused the Medicaid program to disburse more than $1 million in benefits for pregnant Turkish nationals who, masquerading as tourists, entered the United States under false pretenses to obtain birthright citizenship for their newborns,” stated Acting U.S. Attorney Kasulis. Ms. Kasulis also thanked the United States Department of State, Diplomatic Security Service, for its assistance with the case.
“This was an extremely complex, international investigation that led law enforcement to the core of this scheme right here in our backyard,” stated District Attorney Sini. “More than $1 million of American citizens’ hard-earned money was stolen through this conspiracy, and today’s plea holds its ringleader accountable. We will not tolerate the theft of taxpayer money in any form, and will continue to work with all of our law enforcement partners to target, arrest and prosecute anyone trying to take advantage of the system.”
“The criminality of birth tourism manipulates our visa and immigration systems and diverts precious financial resources from an already exhausted health care system that serves our local communities to combat COVID-19 and other critical needs,” stated HSI Special Agent-in-Charge Fitzhugh. “This is a criminal organization that threatens our homeland and preys on the vulnerable. HSI, along with its valued partners, will continue to use every resource to dismantle and bring those responsible to justice.”
“Millions of people in New York depend on Medicaid for vital services, and taxpayers across the state pay for that care,” stated HHS-OIG Special Agent-in-Charge Lampert. “When individuals like Mr. Aksakal use this program to perpetrate fraud, they divert precious funding that puts the future availability of Medicaid and other public assistance programs at risk. HHS-OIG and our law enforcement partners will continue to aggressively root out fraud schemes and hold criminals accountable.”
“Medicaid fraud, as this egregious scheme represents, threatens the health and safety of beneficiaries, wastes tax payer dollars and drains essential resources from the health care delivery system,” stated Acting OMIG Inspector General Walsh. “My office will continue to be vigilant, particularly in these most challenging times in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, and work closely with our law enforcement partners to protect the integrity of the Medicaid program, hold wrong doers fully accountable, and preserve precious health care resources.”
“Healthcare fraud is an issue that hurts both the individuals who rely on these services and the taxpayers who ultimately get stuck with the bill,” stated SCPD Commissioner Cameron said. “This is the first time the Suffolk County Police Department handled a birth tourism case and I would like to commend the efforts of our Criminal Intelligence detectives as well as our partners in law enforcement who successfully worked on this case while also sending a message to others exploiting birth tourism—bilking the system and swindling our residents is not be an acceptable practice here in Suffolk.”
From at least January 2017 to the September 2020, Aksakal and his co-conspirators advertised a birth tourism scheme on two Turkish-language Facebook pages, www.facebook.com/ bebegimamerikadadogsun and www.facebook.com/amerikadadogum.org, and a Turkish-language website https://amerikadadogum.org. Translated into English, “bebegimamerikadadogsun” means “My baby should be born in America,” and “amerikadadogum” means “Giving Birth in America.” As translated, some of the defendants’ advertisements stated, “If you believe your baby should be born in the USA and become a U.S. citizen then you are at the right place. . . . [W]e at ‘Bebegim Amerika Dogsun’ . . . will provide future mothers and fathers this opportunity, with minimal costs . . . .” The advertisements further stated that fees paid by pregnant women – approximately $7,500 nearly all in cash – would include transportation, “insurance” to cover the costs of pre-natal, delivery and post-natal medical care, assistance with the process for applying for United States citizenship on behalf of children born in connection with the scheme and consultation in Turkish concerning health care issues. Aksakal and his co-conspirators also instructed the women to conceal their pregnancies.
The pregnant women stayed in one of seven “birth houses” that Aksakal maintained in Center Moriches, Dix Hills, East Northport, East Patchogue, Smithtown and West Babylon, New York. In addition to facilitating fraudulently obtained Medicaid benefits and lodging and transportation of the pregnant women, Aksakal and his co-conspirators also advertised the scheme on websites. As a result of the scheme, Medicaid disbursed more than $1 million in fraudulently obtained benefits.
When sentenced, Aksakal faces up to 20 years’ imprisonment.
The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s Long Island Criminal Division. Assistant United States Attorneys Bradley T. King and Oren Gleich and Special Assistant United States Attorney Jeremy Glicksman are in charge of the prosecution.
IBRAHIM AKSAKAL (also known as “Dennis”)
East Patchogue, New York
E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 20-CR-400 (JS)