Medicare: Massive fraud nets doctor 20-year sentence
Medicare fraud earned Florida doctor $1.2 million – and prison. Sentence is second-stiffest handed out for Medicare fraud in South Florida.
MIAMI – A Florida doctor convicted of pocketing more than $1 million for writing phony prescriptions for unnecessary HIV treatments was sentenced Monday to almost 20 years in prison, for his key role in a massive Medicare fraud conspiracy. The scam bilked millions of dollars from the federal health care program.Skip to next paragraph
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Dr. Rene de los Rios, a 72-year-old Cuban-born physician trained in Spain, said virtually nothing at his sentencing as U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard hammered him for violating his medical oath, stealing from the vulnerable government program and disgracing himself, his family and his community. She also accused him of "blatantly lying" as a witness during his trial that ended with a jury's guilty verdict in April.
"Dr. de los Rios does not deserve the title of doctor anymore," the judge declared, rejecting his bid for about seven years in prison.
The doctor's sentence was the second stiffest of any meted out against a physician convicted of Medicarefraud in South Florida, which is widely regarded as the capital of crime against the federal program for the elderly and disabled. It rivaled that of Dr. Ana Alvarez-Jacinto, a Miami-Dade County physician convicted of a crime similar to Rios' HIV scam; she was sentenced to 30 years by Chief U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno in 2008.
Alvarez-Jacinto's punishment was upheld last year in an Atlanta-based federal appellate court ruling written by retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Sitting as a guest panelist, she declared that "a doctor should be punished more severely than other participants because the doctor is breaching a position of trust and an ethical obligation to put the patient's interest first."
Lenard echoed that belief repeatedly Monday as she slammed de los Rios for falsifying hundreds of patient records to justify writing bogus prescriptions for two Miami-Dade clinics — Metro Med of Hialeah and J&F Community Medical Center — that billed Medicare a total of $46.2 million for HIV therapy between 2003 and 2005.
In turn, Medicare paid the clinics $19.7 million for HIV treatments that were either unnecessary or not provided to patients, many of whom received kickbacks for use of their government-issued health care cards.
"It is the medical doctor who holds the position of trust," the judge said. "It was violated by the medical director of Metro Med and J&F."