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Miami man admits guilt in $60 mln healthcare scam

* Scheme involved recruits from Cuban immigrant community

* Suspect spent nearly $3 million on luxury cars alone

MIAMI, April 13 (Reuters) - A Miami man has pleaded guilty to a Medicare fraud scheme that sought to cheat the U.S. healthcare system out of more $60 million, authorities said on Tuesday.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida said Ihosvany Marquez confessed to overseeing a criminal operation that submitted at least $61 million in false claims to Medicare for the treatment of patients with HIV, AIDS, cancer and a variety of other ailments at eight Miami and Orlando-area health clinics.

Medicare, the federal health insurer for more than 43 million elderly and disabled Americans, paid nearly $24 million of the bogus claims.

The returns were so good that Marquez -- a former high school pitching ace who went on to have a short-lived career in minor league baseball -- spent millions of dollars on jewelry, watches, luxury cars and race horses, according to court records.

As part of his plea agreement, he admitted to laundering the healthcare fraud proceeds through a Miami-area car dealership and through two Miami check cashing stores, Pelly Box Lunch and La Bamba Check Cashing, authorities said.

He and an unidentified number of co-conspirators, all of whom were indicted separately, concealed their involvement in the scheme by recruiting nominee or “straw” owners for each healthcare clinic they operated, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

It said the nominal owners, mostly from the closely knit Cuban immigrant community, were paid large sums of cash to sign corporate and bank records and other documents before fleeing the country to avoid arrest.

Florida, where healthcare fraud has replaced the drug trade as the crime of choice among many felons, has long been has long been known as the capital of Medicare fraud.

The cases often involve multimillion-dollar schemes featuring bogus suppliers of durable medical equipment such as wheelchairs and sham infusion therapies for the treatment of HIV and AIDS. (Reporting by Tom Brown; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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