By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
It was a full two years from the time Weinstein began the investigation of Cristino Enriquez until the time the IMC doctor was given eighteen months in prison for mail fraud and conspiracy. In June 1988, as the sentencing date approached, Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Bonn and Weinstein suggested to Robert Simon, Weinstein's boss in Atlanta, that he invite HHS Inspector General Kusserow down from Washington to attend the hearing. By this time the IMC debacle was being hashed over in the press and in Congress, and it seemed to Weinstein that the Enriquez conviction would be a feather in Kusserow's cap. But the invitation was met with chilly silence. The sentencing hearing came and went quietly. "Looking back on it," Weinstein says today, "it only made sense in the context of a cover-up."
Weinstein says he urged HHS officials to reopen the IMC clinic cases, right up until his last day of work for the department. And to his surprise, he discovered that while the inspector general's office continued to ignore the fraud cases, accountants in the HHS audit division had conducted a review of dozens of IMC clinics, using a research scheme Weinstein developed during his work on the Enriquez investigation. The audits - one of IMC clinics, another of Comprehensive American Care Inc. - showed five million dollars in fraud, Weinstein concluded. Yet the auditors had made scant attempt to recover the money. Rather than alerting the inspector general's office or the U.S. Attorney, HHS accountants sent the audits to Blue Cross/Blue Shield, the Florida Medicare carrier. Blue Cross/Blue Shield sent out letters requesting the return of some funds, but very few were ever recovered.
"I said, `This is fraud! Why didn't you refer this to us?'" Weinstein says, recalling a discussion with Mary Ann Moreno, one of the government auditors who helped conduct the review of IMC clinics. "She said, `I saw that it was fraud. I could recognize it. But my boss told me to send it to Blue Shield. I did what I was told.'" Moreno, who now works in the Atlanta HHS office, would not discuss her conversation with Weinstein, citing departmental prohibitions against employees talking to the press.
Having seen the IMC clinic investigations come to a dead end after the Enriquez trial, the recently retired Weinstein decided to file suit himself. "I said to myself, `If they're not going to do anything, then I will.' I saw so many old people injured and killed through Recarey's schemes. I think it stinks, and I couldn't live with myself if I didn't try to do something about it. I was fortunate in the timing of all this. I can't tell you with a straight face that I would have done what I'm doing if I was 40 years old and faced losing my job. I'm not that stupid and brave."
What at first sounds like paranoia on the part of Leon Weinstein seems less and less implausible the more one considers the close ties between Miguel Recarey, Jr., and the Republican administration during the Eighties, links that help explain how the IMC chief was able to stay afloat so long in a rising sea of charges and complaints.
In the mid-Eighties, Recarey and other IMC associates gave at least $25,000 to George Bush's political action committees, and Recarey was invited to the White House on at least three occasions. In 1984 IMC was desperate for an exemption from a regulatory requirement mandating a 50-50 ratio of Medicare patients to non-Medicare patients. That year Recarey made a $2000 donation to the Dade County Republican Party, chaired by Bush's son, Jeb. Two months later, according to an HHS official who testified before Congress, the younger Bush called HHS Secretary Margaret Heckler to describe Recarey as "a good community citizen and a good supporter of the Republican Party." Shortly thereafter IMC received its exemption. Jeb Bush's Miami real estate firm was later paid $75,000 to find a new corporate headquarters for IMC, and the medical-insurance group also employed former White House aide Lyn Nofziger and one-time Reagan campaign manager John Sears.
As impressive as Recarey's political contributions is the extent to which he established a revolving door between IMC and the government agency that was supposed to oversee it. Juan del Real, HHS's general counsel, received $325,000 when he left the federal agency to go to work for IMC. His wife, Claire del Real, continued at HHS as deputy assistant secretary for public affairs after her husband went to work for Recarey's firm, but eventually joined him, at $130,000 per year. Wayne Fowler, the director of group health plan operations for HHS's Health Care Financing Administration, got $165,000 his first year at IMC. Fowler's former office at HHS directly regulated IMC. William Landress, supervisory operations specialist at the Health Care Financing Administration, received $80,000 per year after joining IMC. Frances Paris, HHS deputy assistant press secretary, got $85,000. Denise Rodriguez, an HHS attorney, got $75,000. Richard Lucibella, an HHS program analyst, only merited $40,000. C. McClain Haddow, chief of staff to HHS Secretary Heckler, won a $38,000 consulting fee from IMC shortly after leaving government work.