July 09, 2011

thedaily

By Karen Keller

A former crime boss in Azerbaijan faces just a few years in prison after a plea deal yesterday in connection with the largest Medicare fraud in U.S. history, according to his attorney.

The alleged godfather, Armen Kazarian, 47, faces 30 to 37 months in prison after a plea deal yesterday, according to attorney Mark Geragos.

Most of the 43 other members of the Armenian-American crime network indicted in the $100 million scam head to trial next June, said a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

"Obviously, we're happy to resolve this without a trial, and it's a long way away from what the government originally alleged," Geragos said.

The feds arrested dozens last October in a sting that stretched from Southern California to New York. The Mirzoyan-Terdjanian organization gives the Gambinos and their ilk a run for their ill-gotten money, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said at a Manhattan news conference last year.

They are accused of faking accidents and setting up sham medical offices using real doctor and patient identities. Often the doctor's specialty and the medical service didn't match up. Once they used a throat doctor to bill for a pregnancy ultrasound, the indictment said.

The scam had a "diabolical beauty" to its organizers, said Janice Fedarcyk, FBI assistant director-in-charge, in a press release.

"The whole doctor-patient interaction was a mirage. But the money was real while it lasted," she said. And some of the gang's profits are now inside Armenia, where the men allegedly sent cash through couriers.

Medicare fraud is a growing problem, authorities said, with personal identity theft a rising concern and billions of dollars at stake. But while taxpayer gouging rises, Kazarian's problems have shrunk.

He faced a slew of charges with maximum sentences totaling far more than a lifetime in prison, but he pleaded guilty to a minor charge of racketeering unrelated to the Medicare fraud.

But the Justice Department is hailing the plea as the first time federal agents have brought down a "vor," a label awarded to elite criminals in Russia and the former Soviet Union.

By Karen Keller, The Daily
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