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Once again South Florida leads the way in a nationwide Medicare fraud case that federal agents broke open on Wednesday. Out of the 107 people facing charges nationwide, 59 are from South Florida. All have been charged in a series of Medicare fraud schemes that authorities say total about $452 million in false billings. John Gillies, special agent in charge of the FBI?s Miami office, talks about the arrests.
The son of a famous Cuban exile poet who stole millions through a Medicare fraud scheme was sentenced to five years behind bars Wednesday.
Ernesto A. Montaner, 71, the former co-owner of a chain of Miami-area rehab clinics, will also have to pay back the taxpayer-funded healthcare program $2.8 million, according to the Miami Herald.
The stiff sentence was handed down by U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King after Montaner pleaded guilty earlier this year to a scheme which duped the government into paying some $6.2 million for services that were unnecessary or never provided.
"I know I did wrong," Montaner said in court Wednesday, according to the Herald. "I know I committed the crime of Medicare fraud. I pray for your understanding and forgiveness."
The FBI began investigating Montaner in 2006 and raided his clinics in 2008. His son, Ernesto Montaner Jr., and business partner, Jose A. Varona, were also charged in the scheme.
Montaner fled to Costa Rica but was arrested by authorities there in 2010. He was brought back to Miami in 2011.
Varona, 40, pleaded guilty to the scheme and was sentenced to three years in prison. His sentence was reduced after he gave the FBI information that helped them find Montaner in Costa Rica.
Montaner Jr., 46, later pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the healthcare program and was sentenced to four years in prison. He agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and even testified against his father before a federal grand jury.
Marc Seitles, Montaner Sr.'s attorney, claimed prosecutors compelled the son to testify, placing a strain on the family.
"This has been a very unfortunate situation for this family," Seitles told the judge. "What the government was doing was something it shouldn’t have done. This was not done with any malice, but it was done."
Prosecutors said Montaner put himself in the situation.
"We are here because the defendant recruited his own flesh and blood into the fraud," Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Davidson said. "This man corrupted and ruined the life of his own son."
Montaner is the son of Ernesto Montaner, a Havana-born poet who came to the United States in 1959 and died in 1992.