Russian diplomats charged with cheating U.S. health care program
New York • More than three dozen Russian diplomats and their spouses enjoyed luxury vacations and spent tens of thousands of dollars at the finest stores as they lied about their incomes to get the government to pay their health care bills, federal prosecutors in New York said Thursday.
The diplomats were among 49 individuals charged in a complaint unsealed in federal court in Manhattan, though no arrests were made and only 11 of the diplomats and their spouses remained in the United States. The complaint said Medicaid, a health care program for the poor, lost about $1.5 million in the scheme since 2004.
A message left with Russian officials at the United Nations was not immediately returned.
The complaint alleges that the defendants systematically submitted fraudulent applications for medical benefits for pregnancies, births and care for young children. Federal prosecutors said the diplomats under-reported their income on the applications so that they would qualify for Medicaid benefits.
In court papers, FBI agent Jeremy Robertson described an 18-month investigation, saying investigators had discovered a pattern of falsified applications.
He said 58 of the 63 births attributed to Russian diplomats and their spouses in New York City between 2004 and 2013 were funded through Medicaid benefits.
Robertson wrote that the diplomats and their spouses generally underreported household income to an amount below the applicable Medicaid eligibility level, and some of them lied about the citizenship status of their children to obtain continuing health coverage for them.
Meanwhile, the diplomats and their spouses spent tens of thousands of dollars on vacations, fancy watches, expensive jewelry and designer clothing at luxury retail stores including Bloomingdale's, Tiffany & Co., Jimmy Choo, Swarovski and others, the court papers said.
The complaint said they also spent tens of thousands of dollars on electronic merchandise at Apple Inc. stores and elsewhere. It said they also bought concert tickets and robotic cleaning devices.
Court papers noted that prior to June 2011 Russian diplomats including some of the defendants received their salaries in cash. The complaint said diplomats underreported their incomes to qualify for Medicaid but gave more accurate descriptions of salaries to qualify for credit cards.
Charges in the criminal complaint included conspiracy to commit health care fraud, conspiracy to steal government funds and make false statements relating to health care matters.