Sisters charged with health fraud caught overseas

AP News
Posted: Mar 15, 2011 5:59 PM
Sisters charged with health fraud caught overseas

The hunt for two sisters wanted for health care fraud in the Detroit area ended when they were arrested as they tried to board a plane in Colombia, authorities said Tuesday.

Caridad Guilarte, 54, and Clara Guilarte, 56, were on a most-wanted list on the website of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which runs Medicare.

The sisters are charged with collecting more than $4 million from Medicare for drug therapies that were unnecessary or not performed at a clinic in Dearborn over an 18-month period.

The Guilartes were taken to Miami on Monday, a day after they were arrested while trying to board a plane in Colombia, FBI spokeswoman Sandra Berchtold said.

They eventually will be transported to federal court in Detroit. Defense attorneys haven't been assigned yet. The Guilartes are natives of Cuba; Clara is a U.S. citizen while Caridad is a permanent U.S. resident.

The sisters likely were trying to flee to a country that might not help U.S. authorities look for fugitives, said Gerald Roy, deputy inspector general for investigations at HHS. He didn't know the planned destination.

"This shows our global reach," Roy told The Associated Press. "If you're going to steal from our Medicare program, and think you're going to hide out in a foreign country, you better think again."

Coincidentally, news of their capture emerged while Attorney General Eric Holder and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius were in Detroit for a regional meeting on health care fraud. More than 100 people have been indicted in the Detroit area since 2009.

"Here, and across America, these crimes are driving up health care costs for everyone, and also hurting the long-term solvency of our essential Medicare and Medicaid programs," Holder said Tuesday.

About $1.5 million in the Guilarte case was seized from bank accounts in 2007. The sisters were indicted in 2009 along with four other people. The alleged accomplices have pleaded guilty or plan to, according to court filings.

One of them, Noel Freytes, recently was sentenced to a year and a day in prison, a significant break. Prosecutors were seeking at least 2 1/2 years in custody for a money-laundering conspiracy.