"I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!"
I immediately thought of that line from the classic 1942 film "Casablanca" as I read Fabiola Santiago's column in this morning's Miami Herald.
Santiago, the Herald's most fraudulent columnist, is just now learning — and she's shocked, SHOCKED! — that Cubans who are in the U.S. thanks to the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, have for years been using their special status to defraud the United States government.
In this morning's paper Santiago writes:
Evidence has been mounting for far too many years that wholesale fraud is being committed by Cubans taking advantage of the extraordinary privileges that U.S. immigration law bestows only upon them.
Cases of Medicare and Medicaid embezzlement by recent waves of Cuban immigrants — now living as U.S. fugitives in Cuba and enjoying their stolen wealth — have been well documented in federal court and by the Miami Herald. And now a year-long investigation by the Sun Sentinel, based on hundreds of documents and reporting trips to Cuba, highlights widespread abuse and theft at a cost to U.S. taxpayers in excess of $2 billion.
The Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 has become a revolving door for these thieves to obtain easy access to Florida, become U.S. residents and return to Cuba to live on fraudulently obtained money.
Apparently Santiago would have us believe that despite the fact that she writes almost exclusively about Miami's Cuban community, she was totally unaware — until she read about it in a competing newspaper — that Cuban criminals have been committing Medicare and other kinds of fraud for years.
Back in 2008, Herald federal courts reporter Jay Weaver thoroughly documented cases of Medicare fraud by Cubans, including that of the Benitez brothers.
Maybe Santiago was on vacation the week Weaver's stories appeared in the paper.
Medicare fraud fugitives evade capture
by Jay Weaver
The Benitez brothers were masters of Medicare fraud, prosecutors say.
They spent their Medicare millions on Mediterranean-style homes, apartments, hotels, boats, a helicopter, even a water park -- all in the resort area of Bavaro, Dominican Republic, court records show.
After they were indicted on fraud charges in late May, Carlos, Jose and Luis Benitez used their Cuban passports to travel from Miami to the Dominican Republic, then to Cuba.
The three brothers are accused of defrauding the U.S. government's health insurance program by billing $110 million in false claims for HIV drug-infusion treatments at their dozen Miami-Dade clinics. Medicare paid their companies about $84 million in reimbursements between 2001 and 2004, according to federal authorities and court records.
The Benitezes -- who came to this country in 1995 and became U.S. citizens five years later -- have a lot of company. They are among 56 fugitives charged since 2004 with filing at least $272 million in phony Medicare claims before disappearing from Miami-Dade. Collectively, the fugitives absconded with at least $142 million in taxpayer funds.
In 2008, Myriam Marquez, who was then a Herald columnist, followed up on Weaver's piece with a column titled, "Wet or dry, policy should be the same."
U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno, who has handled several Medicare scam cases involving Cuban defendants, is right to warn his colleagues about the flight risks.
"It seems to me that our thinking has to change," Moreno noted during a June hearing when he learned that Carmen Gonzalez, charged in an $11 million scam, had left for Cuba. "We always think here in Miami that if you're a Cuban refugee, you're not going to go back to Cuba.
"I'm wondering whether a Jew leaving Nazi Germany can go back and forth to visit the relatives. I would suspect you couldn't."
Santiago, who is the Herald's Chief Apologist for all things having to do with the Cuban exile community, has argued that Cubans deserve the special status afforded them by the Cuban Adjustment Act.
After all, they're fleeing a brutal dictatorship.
But in this morning's column she writes: "I believe in the humanitarian role of a country open to refugees and in the economic benefit generated by the energy of hard-working immigrants. But an out-of-date law meant to protect the politically persecuted is being made a mockery of by people cashing in on the generosity of Americans."
Better late than never, Fabi.
Sun Sentinel: U.S. welfare flows to Cuba - “They’re taking benefits from the American taxpayer to subsidize their life in another country.”
Sun Sentinel: Plundering America, the Cuban Criminal Pipeline