A Florida health care executive accused in a multi-million dollar Medicare fraud has been ordered held without bail after he was caught allegedly trying to flee to Cuba aboard a Jet Ski.
Federal prosecutors say the U.S. Coast Guard caught up to Ernesto Cruz Graveran last week aboard a broken-down Jet Ski in the waters south of Key West, Fla., heading in the direction of Cuba, just 90 miles away.
Cruz Graveran was accompanied by a person prosecutors said was a known human smuggler, and that the watercraft was equipped with a special long-distance fuel cell. They were also carrying food and water supplies sufficient for a long journey, according to court documents.
“I believe it is probable that Cruz Graveran was, in fact, fleeing to Cuba aboard the Jet Ski to evade prosecution,” an agent with the Department of Homeland Security wrote in a court-filed affidavit.
On Monday, a federal judge in Miami ordered Cruz Graveran, 54, of Hialeah, Florida — whose passport had previously been seized — to be detained pending trial on health care fraud charges.
It wasn’t immediately clear if Cruz Graveran had retained a lawyer and he couldn’t be reached for comment.
Federal prosecutors say Cruz Graveran owned a company called Xiko Enterprises, Inc., which purportedly provided durable medical equipment to Medicare beneficiaries.
But according to court filings, the company routinely submitted fraudulent claims for expensive medical devices for hundreds of patients who either didn’t need the equipment or were unaware that it had been ordered on their behalf.
In all, prosecutors say Cruz Graveran submitted $4.2 million in bogus Medicare claims for which he received $2.1 million in payouts.
Investigators say one doctor alone prescribed such medical equipment from Xiko for 145 patients, amounting to over $1 million in claims. When interviewed by law enforcement, many of the patients said they had never seen the doctor and did not know what Xiko was, according to the criminal complaint.
In late May, investigators caught wind that Cruz Graveran intended to fly to his native Cuba, so law enforcement officers approached him at his home. According to court filings, Cruz Graveran told the officers that he was just the nominee owner for the company and that another person, not named in court papers, had paid him to use his name and for him to process checks.
Some of the checks were for as much as $90,000 and he would often take them to a local check cashing store, he said, according to the government’s affidavit.
Cruz Graveran agreed to cooperate with the government and handed over his passport, the affidavit said.
But less than three weeks later, he was caught out to sea aboard the Jet Ski.