MIAMI -- As Medicare crime spreads across South Florida, accused scammers are escaping in droves to Cuba and other Latin American countries to avoid prosecution — with more than 150 fugitives now wanted for stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from the U.S. healthcare program, according to the FBI and court records.
The tally of fugitives charged with healthcare fraud here has tripled since 2008, when The Miami Herald first reported on the phenomenon of Cuban immigrants joining the Medicare rackets and fleeing to evade trial in Miami.
But during the past three years, the FBI has captured only 16 fugitives, reflecting the difficulty in catching Spanish-speaking suspects who head south to hide out. Most of the fugitives were born in Cuba, immigrated to South Florida after 1990 and can easily live under the radar in Latin America with hundreds of thousands or millions in taxpayer dollars fleeced from Medicare.
Even if fugitives can be located in Cuba, there’s no way to get them back because of the political realities at play.
“They go to Cuba so they can’t be caught,’’ said Rolando Betancourt, a longtime Miami bail bondsman who has tracked one Medicare fugitive to Havana. “You can find anybody in Cuba; you just can’t arrest them.’’
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