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Fort Lauderdale Federal criminal defense lawyers

Our federal criminal defense attorneys in Fort Lauderdale, Florida will help you in your time of need if you are accused of a federal offense. Do not hesitate to call us if you are contacted by federal law enforcement. If we are able to intervene at the beginning of your case it will be extremely beneficial with regard to the outcome.

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Recent Cases Prosecuted by the United States Attorneys Office for the Southern District of Florida

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Eleven-Year Chase Results in U.S. Criminal Convictions of British Citizens in Death of Scuba Diver

Miami, Florida – After being on the lam for over a decade, the owners of a now-defunct Key Largo, Florida dive shop who maintained their vessel in such shoddy condition that is capsized and sank, killing one person, have appeared in federal court in South Florida and pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter.

Christopher Jones, 57, and Alison Gracey, 54,owned The Key Largo Scuba Shack, LLC, a business that operated charter scuba diving trips in the Florida Keys from approximately June 2010 to December 2011.  Their main charter boat was a 24.8-foot vessel named the M/V Get Wet.  On December 18, 2011, the M/V Get Wet departed the pier for a scuba trip with two crew members and six passengers.  During the vessel’s first dive stop, the sea conditions went from calm to choppy and the boat operator noticed that the bilge pump had failed.  As the divers reboarded the boat after the dive, the vessel began taking on water, rolled heavily, capsized, and quickly sank about 30 feet to the ocean floor.  During its descent, a 300-pound bench that was not properly secured to the vessel’s deck detached.  Made of buoyant material, the bench sprang towards the ocean’s surface, as the vessel itself sank.  The two large and heavy objects collided, pinning one passenger’s legs against the vessel’s windshield.  The passenger was trapped and drowned. 

Once salvaged, Coast Guard experts inspected the M/V Get Wet and found serious deficiencies.  Not one of the vessel’s bilge compartments – the engine spaces below the ship’s deck – was watertight.  The aft-most bilge space, called the lazarette, was covered by a deck plate with holes for 30 bolts, of which 22 were missing and eight were loose.  The wood at the bottom of the 300-pound bench was rotten, and the screws intended to secure it to the deck were too small.  Beneath the deck, holes that allowed water to flow between the various bilge compartments compromised all the bulkheads.  A bilge pump had been disassembled and re-assembled incorrectly.

In addition, a criminal investigation following the death of the diver revealed that Jones and Gracey knew before the tragedy that the vessel needed repairs. Jones and Gracey continued operating the M/V Get Wet despite the following, which all occurred prior to December 18, 2011: 

  • Following inspections, the United States Coast Guard notified Jones and Gracey that the vessel needed repairs, including securing the center engine bench cover to the deck and making repairs below the deck to make sure that the bulkhead areas were watertight. 
  • The dive operation’s employees repeatedly informed Jones that the M/V Get Wet flooded dangerously. The deck plates were barely attached, and the engine bench cover would rock back and forth. 
  • The M/V Get Wet broke down repeatedly and equipment on the boat failed, including pumps intended to de-water the vessel.
  • On one voyage with Gracey aboard as dive master, the M/V Get Wet almost sank.
  • In the two months before the boat sank, a marine salvor towed the M/V Get Wet to shore on three separate occasions. 

Shortly after the diver’s death, Jones and Gracey fled the United States and spent over 10 years evading extradition each time law enforcement located them. In 2021, they left France for Spain, where Spanish authorities took them into custody based on an Interpol Red Notice.  In January 2022, Jones and Gracey were extradited from Spain to the United States to face federal charges in Southern District of Florida.

Sentencing is set for August 18, at 1:30 pm, in the Key West Federal Courthouse before Judge James Lawrence King.  Each defendant faces up to eight years in federal prison. 

Juan Antonio Gonzalez, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Zinnia James, Special Agent in Charge, Southeast Region, U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS), announced the guilty pleas.  

The U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service investigated the case.  The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs provided invaluable assistance pursuing the extradition of the defendants. The U.S. Marshals Service also assisted by transporting the defendants from Spain to Florida.

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Jaime Raich worked on the investigation and initially prosecuted this case, which Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald is now handling.  

For more details on the case, click here to view the joint factual proffer. 

Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov

Friday, May 20, 2022

Fraud Scheme Involving Baby Formula Leads to 18-Year Federal Prison Sentences for Swindlers

Miami, Florida – A federal district judge in Miami has sentenced each of three South Florida residents to 220 months in prison after a jury found them guilty of orchestrating an elaborate fraud scheme that cheated U.S. manufacturers of infant formula, eye-care products, and other FDA-regulated items out of more than $100 million.    

Between 2013 and 2018, Johnny Grobman, 48, Raoul Doekhie, 53, and Sherida Nabi, 57, secured deep price discounts for infant formula and other items by lying to the U.S. manufacturers of the products. Doekhie and Nabi (who are married) told the manufacturers that they were purchasing the products to ship overseas, to Suriname, often in connection with purported government procurement contracts they held in Suriname.  In fact, the defendants did not have government procurement contracts and never intended to export the products to Suriname.  Instead, Grobman and others sold the products in the United States for millions of dollars, which the three defendants later split among themselves. 

The defendants hid their activity from the U.S. manufacturers of the FDA-regulated products in one of three ways.  The first was to send “dummy” shipments abroad. The dummy shipments did not contain the products purchased from the manufacturers, but they did generate documentation to prove that an export occurred.  The second method was to “U-turn” the products: The products were shipped abroad, generating export documentation.  As soon as they arrived overseas, they were shipped back to the United States.  The third method was to create fraudulent export shipping documentation showing that the products were exported when they actually never left the country.

Following a 13-day trial, on February 6, 2020, a federal jury found Grobman, Doekhie, and Nabi guilty of conspiring to commit wire fraud; wire fraud; money laundering; conspiring to obtain pre-retail medical products worth $5,000 or more by fraud or deception, theft of pre-retail medical products; and smuggling goods from the United States.

On April 25, 2022, the Court entered forfeiture money judgments for the amounts of the criminal proceeds traceable to the offenses of conviction as follows: $87,187,374.83 against Grobman and $115,699,273.61 jointly against the Defendants Doekhie and Nabi.

Juan Antonio Gonzalez, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Justin C. Fielder, Special Agent in Charge, Miami Field Office, United States Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations (FDA-OCI), announced the sentences that U.S. District Judge Roy K. Altman imposed yesterday. 

“The fraud perpetrated by these defendants is nothing short of egregious,” said U.S. Attorney Gonzalez. “The 18-year prison sentences reflect the seriousness of the defendants’ crimes.  Our Office will continue to vigorously prosecute those who commit these types of offenses.”    

“Today’s announcement should serve as a reminder that those who fraudulently divert consumer products for profit will be held accountable for their actions,” said Special Agent in Charge Justin C. Fielder, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations Miami Field Office.  “We will continue to investigate and bring to justice those who engage in fraudulent schemes involving FDA-regulated products.”

FDA-OCI investigated the case.  Broward County Sherriff’s Office assisted.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Shannon Shaw, Christopher Browne, and John Shipley prosecuted the case.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua Paster is handling asset forfeiture.

This case is the second large-scale prosecution by the South Florida U.S. Attorney’s Office and FDA-OCI targeting fraud schemes related to the so-called “gray market,” which involves the diversion and re-sale of certain goods that were not intended for distribution in the United States.  In September 2019, the Office announced the convictions of five defendants, including Byramji Javat, a citizen of Pakistan and Chairman of the Dubai-based Uniworld Group, for various offenses relating to a global fraud scheme that relied upon false claims about the United States military and the Government of Afghanistan. 

Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Miami-Based VirtuOx, Inc. Agrees to Pay $3.15 Million to Resolve Allegations that it Fraudulently Billed Medicare

Miami, Florida – VirtuOx, Inc. (“VirtuOx”), based in Coral Springs, Florida and operating Medicare approved Independent Diagnostic Testing Facilities (“IDTF”), has agreed to pay $3,150,000.00 to resolve allegations that it submitted or caused to be submitted false claims to Medicare for reimbursement.

The United States alleged that, from January 2016 to December 2020, VirtuOx violated the False Claims Act by falsely identifying the place of service for certain services it performed to obtain a higher rate of reimbursement from Medicare.  In particular, the United States alleged that, in connection with its billing for overnight pulse oximetry claims, VirtuOx knowingly submitted false claims to Medicare identifying its IDTF located in San Francisco, California as the location of service for overnight pulse oximetry tests when, in fact, no services were performed at that location in relation to the overnight oximetry claims.

The United States further alleged that, from January 2016 to December 2020, VirtuOx administered overnight pulse oximetry tests and, at times, also billed Medicare for single determination pulse oximetry tests (commonly referred to as an oxygen “spot check”) for the same patient when in fact the only test performed was the overnight test.  In particular, the United States alleged that, because an awake reading is necessarily taken as part of an overnight pulse oximetry test, the separate billing of a “spot check” is redundant and generally not necessary.  Accordingly, the United States alleged that VirtuOx knowingly submitted false claims by separately billing for both an oxygen “spot check” and an overnight pulse oximetry test when only an overnight pulse oximetry test was performed. 

Contemporaneous with the civil settlement, VirtuOx entered into a Corporate Integrity Agreement (CIA) with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG).  The five-year CIA requires, among other things, that VirtuOx retain an outside expert to perform annual claims reviews that address the place of service identified on the claim.

Juan Antonio Gonzalez, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Omar Pérez Aybar, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), announced the settlement.

“The fraudulent billing of Medicare results in systemically higher medical care costs for all,” said United States Attorney Gonzalez. “My Office will continue to hold accountable those health care providers who manipulate the system to benefit their own bottom line.”    

“By submitting false claims to Medicare, providers waste valuable taxpayer dollars and undermine the integrity of federal health care programs,” said Special Agent in Charge Omar Pérez Aybar, at the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). “HHS-OIG will continue to investigate such actions to ensure the efficiency and integrity of these programs.”

This matter arose from a lawsuit filed by Amber Watt in federal court in Miami, Florida.  The lawsuit was filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private individuals to sue on behalf of the government for false claims and to share in any recovery.  The whistleblower share to be awarded in connection with the settlement is $630,000.00.

HHS-OIG investigated the matter.  Assistant United States Attorneys Jessica R. Sievert and Miriam L. Alinikoff handled the litigation.

Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov