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FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. � A pilot project to combat the staggering Medicare fraud epidemic in Miami worked so well that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida in Miami is making it permanent. Also, the Department of Justice plans to launch Medicare strike forces at two other as-yet undisclosed locations in the country, according to Kirk Ogrosky, deputy chief of the fraud section in the DOJ’s Criminal Division. The likeliest spots are Los Angeles and New York, which trail behind Miami in Medicare fraud. The assistant U.S. attorneys assigned to the new Miami division are Benton Curtis, Ryan Stumphauzer, Christopher Clark and Daniel Bernstein. “This project shows that dedicating resources to a problem really pays off,” said Eric Bustillo, chief of the economic and environmental crimes section in the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami. The Miami Medicare fraud strike force began in March. It was headed by Ogrosky and Matthew Menchel, former chief of the criminal division in the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami, who has since gone into private practice. The idea was to assign a group of prosecutors to work with federal agents doing quick-hit fraud cases. Their goal was to catch Medicare fraudsters in the act, applying both civil and criminal laws in order recover the stolen money before it disappeared. Miami has long been considered ground zero for Medicare fraud, and it is widely acknowledged that it has replaced drugs as the leading source of crime in Miami. It is estimated that Medicare fraud in Miami tops $2 billion annually. The primary fraud schemes involve billing Medicare for unnecessary infusion therapy for AIDS patients, for nonexistent medical equipment and for fraudulent or fake prescriptions. The six-month strike force project obtained 74 grand jury indictments, that led to five trials and five convictions, with an average sentence of 54 months. The defendants defrauded Medicare a total of $416 million. “The real success is not in the individual cases, but in a dramatic drop in Medicare billing across the board in Miami,” Ogrosky said. The U.S. attorney’s office will continue to undertake longer Medicare fraud investigations outside the strike force, Bustillo said.

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