At the press conference announcing indictments
against 44 members of an Armenian-American criminal syndicate operating in 25 U.S. states, prosecutors repeatedly said that in its scope and efficiency the organization put “to shame” any classical mafia-style criminal structure.
Reading the indictment, though, things seem a bit more prosaic.
True, there are lurid details, such as threats to disembowel nonpaying debtors, hundreds of thousands in cash stuffed in luggage bound for Armenia, flashy cars, and Las Vegas casino chips used for money laundering. But overall it appears to be an ambitious scheme undertaken by a group of alleged criminals who, as it turned out, were poorly prepared for the task.
Their most aspiring (and awe-inspiring) operation -- the massive Medicare fraud estimated to be between $100 million to $163 million -- was executed amateurishly and produced early red flags for the investigators. For example, the conspirators used the identity of an ear, nose and throat doctor to create a phantom clinic and to bill Medicare, the government health program. But why would a throat specialist conduct pregnancy tests and perform ultrasound?
Another, almost comical, charge involves a phantom forensic pathologist, -- i.e., a doctor who performs autopsies -- billing Medicare for office visits. So, who was visiting him? A corpse?
Obstetricians performing skin allergy tests, dermatologists suddenly becoming heart surgeons, eye specialists checking patients’ bladders. I can almost hear the scream: “Arrest me!”
The conspirators were apparently aware that the sham would be uncovered sooner or later and recognized, as the indictment alleges, that “each fraudulent clinic had a 'shelf life' of only several months before it would be detected.”
Still, they didn’t seem to have been particularly concerned about detection. And they probably had good reason to be nonchalant, since Medicare itself was built on the premises of good faith and efficiency. The program is designed to pay health-care providers promptly for billed services without, in most instances, requiring any verification that the billed services were actually performed prior to issuing payments.
The Mirzoyan-Terdjanian organization's “achievement” -- the biggest Medicare fraud ever uncovered -- is no small feat, but it is far from being the first or most inventive. Fraudulent medical billings and staged auto accidents have become a popular method toward achieving “prosperity” for a small number of ex-Soviet immigrants relocating to the United States.
For the past 10 to 15 years, police officers in the Brighton Beach neighborhood of New York, heavily populated by ethnic Russians, have been witnessing more and more suspicious auto “accidents,” in which a seemingly innocuous touch between a pedestrian and a car slowly exiting a parking space suddenly turns into a major catastrophe involving (on paper at least) broken bones, lengthy hospital stays, and hefty insurance payments.
The alleged members of the Mirzoyan-Terdjanian organization are probably facing lengthy prison terms, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that what happened to them will discourage others to follow in their footsteps. In a perverted way, the popular belief that those who work hard eventually succeed in America seems to be applicable in such cases, too.
-- Nikola Krastev