In Miami’s very deep sea of Medicare fraud, Carmen Gonzalez was a minnow.
So when federal agents recently nabbed her after five years on the lam, it didn’t exactly make a splash. But her arrest was the latest in an under-the-radar round-up of fugitive scammers who have branded Miami with the dubious title of the nation’s capital of healthcare corruption.
Gonzalez had played a supporting role in one of the region’s biggest, baddest Medicare rip-offs. She first worked as a cleaning lady, and then as a nurse who paid kickbacks to patients, for the notorious Benitez brothers — three sharks who ran 11 Miami-Dade clinics that swindled a staggering $84 million from the taxpayer-funded program, authorities say.
In the spring of 2008, Gonzalez and her father, Enrique, who also worked for the Benitez brothers, fled Miami after they were separately charged. The brothers — Carlos, Luis and Jose — also left Miami soon after they were indicted that May.
Where did they all go? Cuba — No. 1 among Latin American destinations of choice for South Florida’s Medicare fraud fugitives. Together, they stole hundreds of millions of dollars by filing billions in false claims for everything from medical equipment to HIV-therapy infusion drugs.