MIAMI – (CBSMiami.com) – The crimes of two sisters led authorities to label them as the “most wanted health care fraud fugitives” and on Wednesday the two women pleaded guilty to a $9.1 million fraud scheme in a Miami federal courtroom.
Caridad Guilarte, 54, and Clara Guilarte, 57, each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
They both appeared before U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga just five months after being arrested and extradited to South Florida from Colombia where authorities said the pair had been hiding out.
The CBS4 I-Team recorded their arrival to Miami International Airport as authorities escorted the handcuffed pair out of an Avianca Airlines flight from Bogota on March 14th, 2011.
Even though a majority of the fraud took place in a Detroit-area medical clinic, Florida Department of State business records obtained by the I-Team show the Guilarte sisters first set up medical clinics in Miami and Orlando.
Federal authorities have said many Medicare fraud schemes originate in South Florida. Schemes are often tried out here, and then exported to other cities around the country.
“They (Medicare fraud schemes are) tested here and funnel out to different parts of the country,” said special agent Omar Perez. “(Detroit, Houston, Baton Rouge and) Los Angeles are seeing some of same schemes (as South Florida.)”
In pleading guilty, the Guilarte sisters admitted that from March of 2005 through March of 2007, they opened a Dearborn Medical Rehabilitation Center in Dearborn, Mich., with the intention of defrauding the Medicare program. The center often billed Medicare for medications that were unnecessary and were never provided to the patients they claimed to help.
The sisters also admitted that they and the clinic employees had only purchased a small percentage of the medications.
Many of the so-called patients were actually recruited and paid kickbacks in exchange for the signature on documents claiming they had received the services they were billing to the Medicare program. Often, those medications billed to Medicare were ones that would generate the largest amount of profits to the center.
The indictment states that the sisters had opened shell corporations in an attempt to conceal the stolen funds.
Medicare paid about $6 million on the $9.1 million claims the pair had submitted. Caridad Guilarte has since consented to forfeit $464,096 in seized bank accounts under her name.
The pair will be sentenced on November 3rd and face a maximum of 10 years in prison for each count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and 20 years in prison for each count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.