New arrest in case of money laundering to Cuba
Jay Weaver and Juan O. Tamayo, El Nuevo Herald
A Miami man has been arrested in an unprecedented money-laundering case that alleges some part of $238 million gained from Medicare fraud was secretly pumped into the Cuban banking system.
Eduardo Perez de Morales, 26, was arrested by FBI agents Monday on one charge of conspiring with his fugitive brother, Jorge Emilio Perez de Morales, who owned an offshore remittance company, Caribbean Transfers.
The company is suspected of bankrolling a Florida check-cashing business that prosecutors say cashed checks for Medicare fraud offenders and transferred the dirty dollars through Canada to Cuba.
Jorge Emilio Perez de Morales, who owns a seaside home in Havana, is wanted by the FBI and was last reported to be living in Cuba. Charged in 2012, he also could be in the Dominican Republic, Mexico or Spain, authorities said.
The revised indictment now charging his brother alleges that as much as $238 million in stolen Medicare proceeds were laundered in the scheme, but it does not say how much was believed to have ended up in Cuba’s national bank. The indictment further alleges that the Perez brothers laundered some of those dollars through Caribbean Transfers’ bank accounts in Canada and other locations.
The initial indictment, which made national headlines, alleged that $70 million in tainted Medicare profits were laundered by 70 healthcare operators through the Naples check-cashing business of Oscar L. Sanchez, who has pleaded guilty and is serving a 4½-year prison sentence.
Prosecutor Ron Davidson has alleged that about half of that amount was transferred through Canada into Cuba, and described Caribbean Transfers as a sort of offshore Western Union. The company, which closed its doors in 2012, claimed it specialized in remittances to Cuba, the Dominican Republic and other countries.
Caribbean Transfers, meanwhile, has claimed that it did nothing wrong but acknowledged that money from the Medicare fraud had “contaminated” its legitimate remittances to the island.
A 1,200-word statement posted Monday on the company’s website attacked the newspapers el Nuevo Herald and the Miami Herald and the blogs Diario de Cuba and Cuba al Descubierto for their reports about the company’s affairs.
“This media campaign with irrational lies creates an irreparable prejudice in the community from which a jury is supposed to be chosen to judge this case,” it said. It added that the campaign “prepares the way for a sure conviction” of Jorge Perez de Morales.
The statement repeated its previous argument that the real blame for the case lies with the Miami banks that accepted Medicare payments for fraudulent billings, and a Miami remittance company that sent money to Cuban families through Caribbean Transfers.
Caribbean Transfers has not identified the remittance company, but sources close to the investigation say it was La Bamba, which also cashed checks. La Bamba owner Juan René Caro is serving 18 years in prison for making false reports of money transfers.
Caribbean Transfers said it does not operate in the United States, but added that the money from the Miami remittance company “contaminated” its own legal transfers of money to the island.
“Our company does not steal, does not defraud and does not move the money of fraudsters to Cuba. What we do is to transfer the money of families to Cuba,” the statement said. “You can ask the more than 150,000 clients who have received our service of remittances to Cuba if at any time they have not received the assistance that is sent to them.”
The statement said that the documentation needed to prove that the accusations against Jorge Perez de Morales are false is being prepared and that it will be presented “before the proper authorities” when it is ready.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been tracking at least 90 fugitives who have ripped off hundreds of millions of dollars from the U.S. government while filing billions in bogus Medicare claims. The pace of arrests has picked up in the last year but about two-thirds remain at large, many of them fleeing back home to Cuba.
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