Law360 (April 16, 2020, 11:14 PM EDT) — A woman who served prison time for a $74 million home health care fraud scheme asked a Florida federal judge Thursday to temporarily suspend collection of restitution because the clothing store where she works closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the government said that is already its policy.
Myriam Acevedo’s motion asked that the monthly $100 deductions from her Social Security benefits be paused for at least six months, saying that an assistant U.S. attorney on the case had authorized her to advise the court that the request was unopposed.
So it came as a surprise to Acevedo’s counsel, Celeste Higgins, when another prosecutor filed a response later in the day arguing that the motion should be denied because the U.S. Department of the Treasury has already exempted Social Security benefit payments from offset through Sept. 21 due to the pandemic.
“Somehow someone did not get that memo, because they did take the $100 out of her Social Security,” Higgins told Law360.
Higgins said that for Acevedo, who is in her 60s and needs medication to treat her Crohn’s disease, the $100 is a significant amount. With the Miami-area clothing store where she works now closed, her Social Security check is her sole source of income.
“Every little bit counts. That’s all I was trying to do,” the attorney said of her decision to file the motion. “I have a feeling that without a court order to inform [the U.S.] Probation [Office] … Social Security is going to continue to be paid toward that restitution.”
Acevedo pled guilty in May 2013, without a plea agreement, to one count of conspiracy to pay health care kickbacks and two counts of payment of health care kickbacks for her role in a Medicare fraud run through Miami home health care agencies Professional Home Care Solutions Inc. and LTC Professional Consultants Inc, according to court records.
U.S. District Judge Marcia G. Cooke initially imposed a 60-month prison sentence on Acevedo, who was an employee of the businesses and primarily paid kickbacks and bribes to patient recruiters in support of the scheme. The judge later reduced her sentence to 20 months.
Acevedo also was ordered to pay $27 million in restitution, while two co-defendants were each ordered to pay $45 million.
According to her motion, she has been contributing $100 per month through her Social Security checks since she was released to a halfway house, where she lived from October 2018 until May 31, 2019. The government also seized $1,500 from her 2018 tax return and $358 from last year’s tax return.
“In short, she has not failed to contribute toward the restitution since released,” her motion said.
The motion also said that Acevedo currently has to pay copayments for the medication she needs out-of-pocket, and cannot afford to see a gastroenterologist because she will not be eligible to sign up for Medicare Plan B benefits until July due to her stay in the halfway house.
In its two-page response, which was signed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Vivian Rosado, the government said that Acevedo’s motion errantly requested the court to direct the Probation Office to inform the Social Security Administration to suspend collection of her restitution.
Instead, the U.S. attorney’s office, not Probation, placed Acevedo on the Treasury Offset Program, the response said. The Treasury Department, not the Social Security Administration, offsets Acevedo’s benefits, but on March 26, the Treasury Department exempted Social Security from offset due to the pandemic.
Higgins, who previously represented Acevedo as a public defender and is currently her court-appointed attorney, expressed frustration that the government’s response will add time and cost to resolving the matter.
“I have absolutely no idea why this AUSA decided to file this response that is only going to serve to make it more difficult for Myriam to get an extra $100 a month while we’re all quarantined,” she said.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Thursday.
The government is represented by Vivian Rosado of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.
Acevedo is represented by Celeste Siblesz Higgins of the Federal Public Defender’s Office.
The case is U.S. v. Luis et al., case number 12-cr-20751, in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
–Editing by Breda Lund.
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