Jorge Emilio Perez de Morales of Cuba was arrested in Madrid, Spain last week on a money laundering charge in compliance with an international arrest warrant issued in 2012 by the Justice Department and U.S. attorney’s office in Miami.
Morales, 52, has been wanted in Miami, Florida for the past five years for allegedly running one of the largest Medicare-related money-laundering operations in U.S. history. He was indicted on a conspiracy charge in 2012 for laundering $238 million in illicit Medicare payments through South Florida. His attorney expects him to seek bond in Spain and challenge his extradition to the U.S.
According to the indictment, Perez ran a Cuba-based remittance company called Caribbean Transfers, which provided large sums of money to Medicare fraudsters in the U.S. after they funneled money into his shell corporations in Canada.
Caribbean Transfers reportedly collected funds from Cubans in the U.S. who wanted to send money to family members on the island. It then allegedly provided Medicare fraud operators in New York, Michigan, Florida, and Tennessee with these funds. The fraudsters could not personally collect the Medicare payments from banks because their businesses were usually registered in the names of newly arrived Cuban immigrants, sources say.
Perez’s alleged role in the money-laundering operation was revealed when a convicted cash-checking store owner from Naples named him as the man who financed his business. The scheme reportedly ran for six years until 2011; it is the first reported case linking South Florida’s healthcare fraud enterprises to the Cuban national bank.
Perez reportedly tried to get the 2012 indictment thrown out in June by claiming that he ran a legitimate remittance company outside the U.S. and that doing so meant that he couldn’t have committed a crime. But a judge denied his motion, saying even if the money-laundering operation extended beyond the country’s borders, the alleged offense still happened in the U.S.
“I was surprised that he was arrested, because [the federal prosecutor] had said that Spanish authorities were not looking for him,” Perez’s defense counsel Stephen Golembe told The Miami Herald. “I haven’t spoken to him, but I expect he will seek a bond and will fight his extradition.”
“If he wishes to contest the charges in this case, [Perez] will have to first submit to the court’s jurisdiction,” Magistrate Judge Patrick Hunt wrote in his ruling. “If he would like to go to trial, the door to the federal court, as always, remains open.”
Perez’s half-sibling, Eduardo Perez, was also implicated in the case. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in 2015 and reportedly confessed that his older brother hired him in the money-laundering operation to deliver cash to healthcare fraud operators. He continued the collaboration even after learning that the operation was illegal.
Perez’s elusiveness is reportedly not uncommon among alleged Medicare fraudsters. According to estimates from the FBI, there are around 160 fraudsters who have active healthcare fraud cases in the U.S. that are on the run. These “fugitives” are believed to have collectively stolen millions from Medicare by submitting illicit claims for a host of services, including physical therapy, prescription drugs, and medical supplies.