"National Symbol" of Prescription Fraud Pleads Guilty, Has 221-Piece Art Collection Seized

The feds seized Mendez-Villamil's Miami office in June.
The feds seized Mendez-Villamil's Miami office in June.
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Some criminals spend their dirty money on drugs. Others blow it on luxury cars, high-end escorts, or trips to obscure rich-people enclaves like Gstaad, Switzerland. Or, if you're Dr. Fernando Mendez-Villamil, a man accused of running one of the largest fake-prescription schemes in history, you invest heavily in paintings of surreal horses and nude women.

Mendez-Villamil, a psychiatrist the Miami Herald once called "a national symbol of overprescribing," was arrested in January after authorities accused him of running a massive faulty-prescription ring from his Miami office. Last month, the feds raided two of his properties and seized a strange, 221-item art collection worth hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of dollars.

Last Friday, Mendez-Villamil pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to defraud the United States in regard to immigration matters, and "conspiracy to defraud the government." 

According to the Herald, Mendez-Villamil wrote more than 97,000 prescriptions in a three-year stretch from 2007 through 2009. (That's more than 88 prescriptions a day.) Given the sheer glut of scrips he signed, it's not exactly surprising that many were filled out fraudulently to help his patients bilk money from the feds. Before his indictment, Mendez-Villamil had also been repeatedly cited for writing needless prescriptions.

The painting seizure, though, hints at how fraud intersects with the international art circuit. On June 30, feds raided Mendez-Villamil's posh, though modestly sized, home in South Miami, as well as his office building. The home was filled to the brim with art pieces, including paintings, prints, and a handful of sculptures.

The seizure papers give a short description of every piece of art taken from the home. At least half seem to include images of nude women. There were also many paintings of vegetables. Most pieces seem to have come from lesser-known artists, though there were a few limited-edition reprints from Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall.

Some other highlights of the court descriptions of Medez-Villamil's collection:

  • "Surreal ribboning horse"
  • "Surreal carousel on Elizabethan head"
  • "Nude woman with village headdress"
  • "Female portrait, newspaper print body and hat"
  • "Impressionist bucking steer"
  • "Clown on brightly colored mosaic background"
  • "Nude woman, posterior"
  • "Bunch of gourds"
  • "Symbols"
  • Two different paintings described as "realism fruit on branch"
  • "Surreal nude woman in eggshell"
  • "Expressionism, fish"
  • "Contemporary folk merman"

Last week in an attempt to shorten his prison sentence, Mendez-Villamil filed an "acceptance of responsibility" statement in court in which he claimed a decades-long faulty-prescription scheme was "completely outside of my character."

He'll be sentenced this Friday by U.S. Judge Federico Moreno.


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