Keskea Hernandez: Death in the Federal Penitentiary

Keskea Hernandez: Death in the Federal Penitentiary
Courtesy of the Hernandez Family
Keskea Hernandez died January 9, alone and handcuffed to a hospital bed.

The photos atop Keskea Hernandez's casket showed a pretty Dominican woman with caramel skin, a brilliant smile, and a cascade of expensively cut hair. As religious hymns drifted across the lavender carpet at Boyd's Funeral Home in Pembroke Pines last month, family members rose one by one to describe Hernandez as a vibrant and energetic go-getter. But the frail body in the box full of white roses told a different, much darker tale.

Seventeen months in federal prison for mortgage fraud had taken a visible toll on Hernandez. Her hair, garlanded with flowers, was now brittle and sparse. Her skin was pale and splotchy. And underneath her white dress, Hernandez's chest was uneven from where doctors had removed an infected breast implant just before she died January 9, alone and handcuffed to a hospital bed.

"My baby," moaned Elsa Peña Nadal, as she collapsed atop her daughter's corpse. "What have they done to my baby?"

The story of how Hernandez, a 42-year-old real estate agent, ended up dead in federal custody has never before been reported. Officials at the Miami Federal Detention Center where she was imprisoned for mortgage fraud have refused to comment. But interviews and documents obtained by New Times reveal that Hernandez's death was preventable — perhaps even criminally so.

For more than a year, Hernandez had begged for treatment for lupus, an incurable autoimmune disorder that causes pain, swollen joints, and digestive problems. If untreated, it can have deadly effects on the heart, lungs, and kidneys. But doctors, judges, and the warden all ignored Hernandez. Instead of giving her the food and medications she needed, they pumped her full of steroids that ultimately made her condition worse. When she pleaded for an early release or transfer to another facility last June, the FDC's medical director said she was "embellishing" her illness. Six months later, Hernandez was dead.

"They killed my one and only daughter," says Peña Nadal.

The scandal goes deeper than Hernandez's tragic death, however. Of FDC Miami's 1,500 inmates, two others passed away last year (one from suicide). Nationwide, 383 out of roughly 218,000 federal prison inmates died in 2012 (five suicides, 25 murders, and the rest from illness or old age). Hernandez's death raises questions about the quality of medical care not only at the FDC in Miami but also in the entire federal penal system. "The quality of care at the FDC is atrocious," says Marc Seitles, Hernandez's lawyer. "They essentially murdered her. They knew of her condition, they knew how badly she was suffering, and they did nothing."

Long before her August 2, 2011, arrest, Hernandez's life tracked the ups and downs of the American immigrant dream. She was born December 15, 1970, in Santo Domingo. Her father, Hector Homero Hernandez Vargas, opposed the brutal reign of then-President Joaquín Balaguer. On the morning of September 22, 1971, Vargas was gunned down in front of his wife and child.

The Balaguer regime deported Peña Nadal and 9-month-old Keskea to Mexico. The two then moved to Chile, only to have the coup against Salvador Allende force them back to the Dominican Republic. Keskea studied tourism in Madrid before moving to Miami in 1994. She became a citizen, married, and in 1996 gave birth to a daughter, Giulianna Figueroa. "Keskea loved the United States," her mother says. "She believed in its laws."

But Hernandez would later break those laws. For a decade, she struggled to provide for her young daughter. She and her husband had divorced, and Keskea juggled jobs at Holiday Inn and a money transfer store before moving into sales. She eventually got her real estate agent's license and founded her own company, Kasa Mortgage, in 2004. She moved into a $500,000 house in Miramar and put her daughter in private school and gave her piano lessons.

Vivacious and charming, Hernandez proved adept at flipping Brickell apartments and Miami Beach condos for profit. But prosecutors would later show she used straw buyers and bogus documents to do it.

Hernandez's life began to crash at the same time as the housing market. By the time Bear Stearns went belly-up in 2008, she had already closed Kasa Mortgage. Hernandez had also caught wind of a federal investigation targeting her and 16 others for mortgage fraud. Stressed and unemployed, her health also began to fail. She had trouble eating and breathing. Some days, she could hardly get out of bed. In 2010, she was diagnosed with lupus and started receiving disability checks.

On August 2, 2011, the feds raided her Miramar house in the middle of the night. Hernandez was arrested, charged with 38 counts of fraud, and thrown into a frigid cell at the FDC. All but one of her codefendants were quickly released on bond but, bizarrely, Hernandez's attorney, Joel DeFabio, never requested a bond hearing. "We developed a plan to get her the minimum sentence possible," DeFabio says of the decision. "She was in agreement."

Inside the FDC, Hernandez's lupus devolved into a dangerous illness. She had learned to control the disorder through a careful diet but now had no choice but to eat the prison food (often expired and occasionally moldy, she told family members). She became feverish and wracked with pain. FDC clinical director Delvena Thomas, an Army psychiatrist who had served in Afghanistan and Iraq, treated Hernandez with powerful steroids (a standard, short-term treatment for lupus).

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23 comments
12345
12345

Keskea, dear friend! rest in peace! You never did anything wrong - this system killed you because you've been doing better, then anyone else. The judge Scola - I have no comments... Don't want to be charged with accusing him. The most unfair  person became a judge... 


12345
12345

Keskea, dear friend! rest in peace! You never did anything wrong - this system killed you because you've been doing better, then anyone else. The judge Scola - I have no comments... Don't want to be charged with accusing him. The most unfair  person became a judge... 


tisvulcan
tisvulcan

Yes, she was a criminal but think about this: if you hit an animal with your vehicle and it doesn't die immediately, what do you do? Keskea was a human being. Why do we, as a free nation with all the rights and privileges we have, treat our pets better than we do other human beings? We have a law called "double jeopardy" that makes it illegal to try someone for the same crime twice. Sounds to me like Keskea was being made to suffer two sentences for her crime. This puts a travesty.

wndjo21
wndjo21

We are suppose to have the best system in the.world yet such neglect?

wndjo21
wndjo21

It just goes to show how we allways claim to have the best systom in the world yet this happens all the time all over the country county state and federal jails

Amanda Drewniak
Amanda Drewniak

I feel for the Woman's family. However, there are millions without proper healthcare or insurance and people bitch about our tax dollars going to The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (for dumb asses it is known as Obamacare- which is a whole other calamity). Our Tax dollars go to prisoner healthcare more often for all sorts of ailments and non emergency/cosmetic treatment before it goes to a law abiding citizen in need.

Omar Ghaffar
Omar Ghaffar

As a criminal defense lawyer I read this article and think that awareness needs to be raised about these issues.

yellow
yellow

I am sick to death over this story. I am appalled that the Judge showed such inhumanity. He had an opportunity to do the right thing and he didnt. How anyone can take the word of a Doctor that works in the prison system is beyond me. That woman deserved better than that kind of treatment. I am so sorry for her daughter. House arrest would have been the logical option in this case. I for one have learned a lesson from this that I will carry with me in decisions that I make in the future. Judge Scola is a discrace.

Vargaz
Vargaz

@edfrommoca - Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I just wiped my ass with yours. 

disturbing
disturbing

Holy hell. Some more people relishing in human mistreatment. This is incredible. I can imagine these people masturbating to mugshots online or something equally sick.

I assume there must be some sort of underlying psychological issue coupled with self-hate projected on the criminals by these folks. Whatever it is, something's not all right up there.

sac1975
sac1975

mortgage fraud should not get someone a death sentence. Yes, she committed a crime, but that doesn't mean she was not entitled to medical care.  This story is so sad,  my thoughts are with the family and I hope the FPC has to pay!! Money can not replace this woman, but it can help the daughter.  Murders get better treatment than this!!

pez.castilla
pez.castilla

Her crimes did not merit a death penalty. 

pez.castilla
pez.castilla

@disturbing Yep, you think we've gotten somewhere with humanity...until you read the comments. Did she break the law, absolutely. But her crimes did not merit the death penalty. I think there are people who simply do not feel empathy.  

pez.castilla
pez.castilla

@sac1975 Amen. the lack of empathy is disgusting. I don't know if it's misogyny at play, or simple sociopaths being their adorable selves. 

Vargaz
Vargaz

@sac1975 you're right they have no excuse for their negligence. 

pez.castilla
pez.castilla

@Vargaz what gives you the right to call her a bitch? she was a daughter, a sister, and a mother. She committed a crime, but she did not deserve to die in jail. 

jcmrls1293
jcmrls1293

@hammid00 I know she and she died for neglicted treatment at FDC becausse in several times she claimed for help on her diet and treatment and nothink happen .Poor girl and family it was horrible.Jesus bless her Family '

Vargaz
Vargaz

@pez.castilla she did not get the death penalty. her crimes landed her in prison and the medical staff killed her. they should be charged with her death. had she not committed those crimes she would not have been there. 

Vargaz
Vargaz

@pez.castilla @sac1975 some have no empathy for people that hurt others by criminal acts. that doesn't make them what you want them to be. Sure it s a shame she's dead but so are many others who weren't in prison. 

Vargaz
Vargaz

@pez.castilla @Vargaz i said greedy bitch, not bitch. no one deserves to die in prison but those sentenced to death. prison didn't kill her being there did, had she not committed the crimes - stop making excuses, its too late. and where were all you "friends" when she was committing these crimes? Did you make her stop? Obviously not. 

 

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