NEW YORK -- U.S. prosecutors have charged 49 current and former Russian diplomats and their family members with participating in a scheme to get health benefits intended for the poor by lying about their income.
According to the charges, filed in November and unsealed Thursday, the diplomats' families got around $1.5 million in benefits from the Medicaid program for families with very low monthly incomes -- in many cases around $3,000 or less. The benefits covered costs related to pregnancies, births and infant care, the charges say.
Meanwhile, according to the charges, the family members spent "tens of thousands of dollars" on vacations, jewelry and luxury goods from stores like Swarovski and Jimmy Choo.
Each of the 49 people was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and one count of conspiracy to steal government funds and make false statements relating to health care matters, according to the charges.
A spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Peter Donald, said no one was arrested.
A person briefed on the matter said the diplomats all had diplomatic immunity and Russia would have to waive it in order for any arrests to be made. The person said U.S. prosecutors had coordinated with the U.S. State Department on the case.
A spokeswoman for the State Department didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Another person familiar with the matter said only a small number of the people charged were still living in the United States.
The Russian mission to the United Nations wasn't immediately available for comment on the case.
Trying to Qualify
The charges say the defendants obtained letters to prove their false incomes from officials at the Russian UN mission, including a former counselor and a former second secretary, as well as from former top officials at the Consulate General of the Russian Federation in New York and the Trade Representation of the Russian Federation in the USA.
Only two of the seven officials who allegedly signed off on the income letters are identified in the charges by name. %VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%The other five are referred to as unidentified co-conspirators.
Timur Salomatin, a former Russian diplomat at the UN, and his wife Nailya Babaeva, said they made $3,000 a month when Salomatin's UN salary was actually $5,160 a month, according to the charges.
Another couple, Andrey Kalinin and Irina Shirshova, lied about their income and monthly housing costs in order to be deemed eligible for Medicaid and also sought benefits from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, which subsidizes the cost of some types of foods and education. According to the charges, the family received more than $23,000 in Medicaid benefits over about three years.
Some families also lied about their newborns' citizenship status, the charges say, because children born to many diplomats and their spouses don't automatically acquire U.S. citizenship the way others do.
Hundreds of Russian diplomats and their families live in a compound in the Riverdale neighborhood in the Bronx.
Russia has in recent years accused the United States of biased and politically motivated prosecution of its citizens, including jailed arms dealer Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko, a pilot sentenced to 20 years in prison for drug trafficking.
In response to a U.S. law enacted in December 2012 that bars Russians seen as human rights abusers from entering the United States, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed off that same month on a similar law barring Americans, including some U.S. Justice Department officials, from Russia.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office brought the health care fraud charges, is among those banned from Russia.
-Additional reporting my Michelle Nichols, Steve Gutterman and Nate Raymond.
11 Health Gimmicks You Should Stop Wasting Money On
U.S. Charges 49 Russian Diplomats With Health Care Fraud
Nearly 30 percent of Americans bought more natural foods in 2011 than the year before, according to a Rodale study. But what are we really paying more for?
There are no clear cut regulations regarding what foods can be called "natural," which means just about any company can slap that label on its packages, add a fancy "green" design and jack up the price.
Says Andrew Schrage of MoneyCrashers: "Before buying any food that is touted as being “all natural,” take a look at the ingredient list before you check out. Keep in mind that butter and salt are indeed natural ingredients. So stocking up on natural foods may not achieve anything other than increasing your grocery bill."
When it comes to ridiculous-looking toning shoes and clothing designed to help shed pounds faster, you might want to hold off.
Reebok has already paid $25 million to consumers for allegedly over-marketing its line of toning shoes' weight loss power. And the one study that seems to support the claim that tight-fitting threads help burn more calories only involved about 15 participants.
"I think there are much simpler and less expensive ways the average person can bump up calorie burn and build strength," says Shape.com's Liz Neporent. "For instance, interval training and hill work. These workouts certainly have the science behind them."
Coconut water may be nature's version of Gatorade but some brands have already caught fire for over-hyping its nutrient content.
Vita Coco agreed to settle a $10 million class-action lawsuit over an independent study that showed the drinks didn't pack near as many electrolytes as advertisements implied.
Some coconut water is also loaded with added sugar, which will do nothing to help your waistline. Instead, pick up your own young green coconuts on the cheap from an Asian produce market. Just crack them open with a cleaver and pop in a straw.
People really will do anything to shed pounds, even if it means injecting themselves with hormones made from another woman's placenta.
The FDA ordered companies to stop selling HCG (a protein made in the placenta and passed through pregnant woman's' urine) after it was used in conjunction with low-calorie diet regimens. A 40-day kit sells for $120, but the hormone has only been approved for use in fertility treatments.
Per the Mayo Clinic: "HCG is not approved for over-the-counter use, nor has it been proved to work for weight loss. Companies that sell over-the-counter HCG weight-loss products are breaking the law."
"What consumers need to know is that your body naturally detoxifies itself through our lungs, skin and kidneys," she said. "Sweat it out, breathe it out and eliminate. Eating a clean diet daily will give you the feeling you are looking forward to at the end of your depriving cleanse, so get started. Besides, cleanses are unnatural and typically based on eliminating food groups and or foods altogether."
Splenda just rolled out a new version of its popular sweetener -- this time with extra fiber -- but the idea that consumers should pay more for fake sugar that's been pumped with more fake ingredients is slightly irksome.
"Adding healthy components to unhealthy things just doesn’t make sense," says Batayneh. "What is 1 gram of fiber (or maybe 10 for those who over-consume artificial sweeteners) going to do for you when you should really be focusing on whole grains, beans, seeds, fruits and vegetables versus relying on your coffee for fiber? This small dose of fiber should not convince you to try it."
Batayneh calls this one of the worst weight-loss myths out there and another attempt to play on the low-carb fad sparked by the Atkin's diet.
"A gluten-free diet does not necessarily mean a low-carb diet," she says. "A person who eats gluten-free can ingest plenty of carbohydrates from gluten-free breads, pastas, cereals, and baked goods as well as vegetables, fruits, beans, and legumes."
Whether or not there are added health benefits to eating organic produce, it's a common misconception that they somehow come packed with less calories than their pesticide-laden brethren.
Even federal guidelines on what's certified organic aren't all that stringent and plenty of regular produce isn't "dirty" enough to warrant paying top dollar (as much as 150% more) for organic versions anyway.
The Environmental Works Group has an excellent chart detailing which non-organically grown produce is most "dirty" and and which is "clean."
"We've had waves of costly 'super juices' in the marketplace that were nothing more than fruit juice," says clinical nutritionist Stella Metsovas. "Testing chemical properties in a laboratory is completely different once the product is pasteurized. There is no possibility of processing a super-fruit to compete with the natural form (i.e.: a handful of berries)."
The acai berry's popularity in the U.S. spawned a new wave of consumer scams involving "free trial offers" for smoothies, juices and other products.