They came to the U.S. on a raft from Cuba, then built ‘vast empire of fraud,’ feds say

A federal judge handed out prison sentences to a husband and wife who arrived to the U.S. from Cuba on a raft and went on to create a $38 million healthcare and wire fraud scheme, using the proceeds to purchase multiple properties, fancy cars, expensive jewelry and cosmetic procedures.

Earlier this month, the judge sentenced Rodolfo Pichardo, 71, of Hialeah, to more than 15 years, and his wife, Marta Pichardo, 66, to 8 years. The couple created at least six fraudulent home health agencies, three fraudulent therapy staffing companies and two fraudulent pharmacies, according to a statement by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.

“After arriving in the United States from Cuba on a raft seeking refuge and a better life … Rodolfo Pichardo and his wife Marta Pichardo settled in Miami-Dade County, Florida, where they proceeded to build a vast empire of fraud,” the statement, released Friday, said.

The scheme ran from May 2010 through September 2016 and centered around kickbacks, paid in cash and by check, to patient recruiters who would refer Medicare patients to home health agencies owned by Rodolfo Pichardo, according to court documents. The Pichardos submitted more than $38 million in false Medicare claims and were paid out more than $33 million, the documents said.

Home health companies provide skilled nursing care and other services, such as physical therapy, at the patient’s home instead of at a provider or in a nursing home.

Rodolfo Pichardo pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and wire fraud, and all remaining counts against him were dismissed, according to court records.

In an objection to sentencing documents filed against him, Rodolfo Pichardo’s attorney described him as in declining mental and physical health: suffering from diabetes, hypertension, and other conditions.

“Soon after his change of plea on September 23, 2019, Mr. Pichardo began suffering from intense periods of insomnia where he would lay awake all night moaning as his mind raced with thoughts of his wife spending years and years in prison as a result of his actions,” the objection said.

Marta and Rodolfo Pichardo have been married for 48 years, according to court records filed by Marta Pichardo’s attorney.

“Ms. Pichardo is an elderly woman, with health issues,” the document said. “She joined this healthcare conspiracy at her husband’s direction, and did what he told her to do.”

Marta Pichardo pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and wire fraud and all remaining counts were dismissed by prosecutors, according to court records.

Rodolfo Pichardo’s indictment listed several companies that purported to provide home health services: Quality Care Home Health Agency, which operated from November 2006 to December 2013 before becoming Rapid Home Health Services. Both companies were based in Hialeah.

Rapid Home Health Services was then renamed Tender Home Health Services, which operated out of Hialeah between October 2014 and October 2017. The indictment listed several other companies: Alegre’s Home Health Care, later known as B&M Home Health Care; Apple Health Care Services; RP Staffing Inc., and others.

The couple took “several calculated steps to conceal the fraud and avoid detection,” according to the statement, including using nominee owners, changing names and locations of their companies, and creating shell companies.

Jesus Fonseca, a family member, was sentenced to more than five years in prison in connection with the scheme earlier this year, according to prosecutors.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Anne P. McNamara prosecuted the case.

*story by the Kansas City Star