A guilty plea is supposed to mean taking responsibility for committing a crime. Yet the Sun-Sentinel reports that a Florida woman was still grappling with her own culpability at her sentencing hearing. She had already pleaded guilty to bribing federal and state employees, enabling more than $5 million in fraudulent Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits claims by her clients, but then in court she blamed her upbringing in Russia for her attitude toward corruption. (So she translated the America’s welcome mat as “land of the fraud, home of the bribe?”)
The story states that the 52-year-old woman operated a service in South Florida that charged clients $2,000-$5,000 in exchange for assistance with government benefits programs, recruiting applicants through Russian-language newspapers. To speed up the benefits approval process for her clients, she made illegal cash payments to agency aid workers, two from the state Department of Children & Families and two from the Social Security Administration. Over the course of her six-year conspiracy, she paid out more than $424,500 in bribes to state and federal employees, and her clients received more than $2.7 million from the government. (‘You have to give something to get something’ was the justification she reportedly used in court. She was right in a way: for all the bribes she gave, she got prison time.)
The Florida fraudster pleaded guilty to a single charge of conspiring to commit healthcare fraud and bribery in federally funded programs, and she was sentenced to ten years in prison and ordered to pay $2.7 million in restitution. (At least she is used to paying people off.)
However, this benefits program bilker did not act alone. Two former state Department of Children & Families employees each pleaded guilty to a single charge of conspiring to commit healthcare fraud and bribery in federally funded programs. One was sentenced to three years and four months in federal prison, and to assist in paying $2.7 million in restitution. The other was sentenced to four and a half years in prison, and to pay more than $300,600 in restitution.
Likewise, a former Social Security Administration employee, who also took bribes, is currently serving four months in prison, followed by four months of supervised release. Finally, a fourth former employee of the Social Security administration, who admitted to receiving bribes in exchange for speeding up the benefits approval process, is awaiting sentencing. Thankfully, none of these corrupted individuals are involved in government benefits programs administration any longer, meaning that they can no longer defraud taxpayers and the government. (That so many former state and federal employees, as well as the fraudster herself, have lost their livelihoods over this fraud scheme just goes to show that if you try to bribe your way into government benefits programs, you’ll end up dealing with more than you bargained for.)