Care-fraud case nets Florida in­spec­tor

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL -

MI­AMI — A Florida health care ad­min­is­tra­tor ac­cepted bribes in ex­change for help­ing a nurs­ing-home owner ac­cused of or­ches­trat­ing a $1 bil­lion Medi­care and Med­i­caid fraud scheme keep his li­cense, fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors said.

Bertha Blanco, 66, faces fed­eral crim­i­nal charges in a wide-rang­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion that fed­eral au­thor­i­ties are call­ing the na­tion’s big­gest health fraud case, The Mi­ami

Her­ald re­ported. She was charged ear­lier this month.

Blanco made about $31,300 a year over­see­ing in­spec­tions at nurs­ing fa­cil­i­ties owned by Philip Es­formes, a busi­ness­man who owns dozens of Mi­ami-Dade nurs­ing fa­cil­i­ties as well as homes in Mi­ami, Los An­ge­les and Chicago, pros­e­cu­tors said.

A crim­i­nal com­plaint filed against Blanco ac­cused her of tak­ing tens of thou­sands of dol­lars in cash in ex­change for tip­ping Es­formes off about vi­o­la­tions so he could ad­dress them be­fore state in­spec­tions.

Blanco’s aid al­lowed Es­formes to keep his li­cense ac­tive and con­tinue billing the fed­eral gov­ern­ment for ques­tion­able pa­tient ser­vices, the com­plaint al­leged.

Blanco, a 29-year veteran of the Florida Agency for Health Care Ad­min­is­tra­tion, is the first of its em­ploy­ees ever to be charged with tak­ing bribes, the news­pa­per re­ported.

Blanco’s at­tor­ney, Robyn Blake, told the news­pa­per that she is re­view­ing the case and de­cid­ing whether to go to trial or craft a plea deal. Blanco is free on a $250,000 bond.

Fed­eral au­thor­i­ties said Blanco took the bribes and pro­vided pa­tient and in­spec­tion records to in­ter­me­di­aries, who de­liv­ered the in­for­ma­tion to Es­formes.

Es­formes is be­ing held in fed­eral de­ten­tion and is sched­uled to go to trial in March. His at­tor­neys have ar­gued that the in­ter­me­di­aries to whom Blanco de­liv­ered the in­for­ma­tion acted with­out his knowl­edge.

Es­formes is ac­cused of us­ing his 20 nurs­ing fa­cil­i­ties to file false Medi­care and Med­i­caid claims for ser­vices that were un­nec­es­sary for 14,000 pa­tients.

Pros­e­cu­tors said his health care net­work and other co-con­spir­a­tors billed $1 bil­lion for fraud­u­lent ser­vices be­tween 2009 and 2016.

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