NEW YORK (FOX5NY) - Designer handbags, high-end watches and a three million dollar penthouse were just some of the lavish perks prosecutors say were enjoyed by the ringleader of a massive fraudulent health care scheme.
Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announced the 858 count indictment on Tuesday, alleging health care fraud, grand larceny and enterprise corruption.
"We are charging 20 defendants, including 4 doctors and 14 corporations with stealing approx $146 million dollars of health care funds," Gonzales said.
The indictment alleges 35-year-old Kristina Mirbabayeva was the ring leader of the scheme, which included four New York City physicians, office managers, patient recruiters, and international money launders.
They reportedly operated out of six different medical clinics in Brooklyn, to which they would recruit poor people to undergo medical testing in exchange for cash.
"These recruiters allegedly scoured job centers and soup kitchens and places where vulnerable victims would be, and they promised them cash kickbacks, as little as $30 or $40," Gonzalez said.
Investigators say the victims would undergo unnecessary testing, and the clinics would then bill Medicare, Medicaid and other publicly-funded insurance companies for up to 18 different procedures per patient.
The money was then laundered through various foreign countries before being used to fund the fraudsters' lavish lifestyles.
"We allege that these dependents continued this bogus billing process for thousands and thousands of patients," Gonzalez said. "This was greed pure and simple and it had real victims."
One of the accused doctors is Robert Vaccarino, an NYPD surgeon. Prosecutors say he, and the other three doctors who are charged, signed off on thousands of fake medical cases, enabling the massive scheme. Now he and all the other defendants are behind bars, facing up to 25 years in prison if convicted.
"It sends a very clear message to those who would rip off the system that there are vigilant agencies out there that will find you and prosecute you," said New York State Medicaid Inspector General Dennis Rosen.
Gonzalez said the scheme went on for at least the past three years and he believes the list of defendants and the amount of money they stole will grow as the investigation continues.