The 49 accused scammers underreported their income in order to qualify for benefits while blowing cash on luxury vacations, jewelry, concert tickets, rented limousines, chartered helicopters and clothes, prosecutors said.
“Diplomacy should be about extending hands, not picking pockets in the host country,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said at a press conference. “The scam exploited a weakness in the Medicaid system, and the charges expose shameful and systemic corruption among Russian diplomats in New York.”
Prosecutors say the defendants worked or had a spouse working at the Russian Mission to the United Nations, the Russian Federation Consulate General in New York and the Trade Representation of the Russian Federation in the USA’s New York office.
The defendants, some of whom worked above at the Consulate-General of the Russian Federation, underreported their income in order to qualify for the welfare. The scheme began in 2004 and continued until this year, the feds said.
Bharara declined to comment on how authorities busted the scheme but it appeared that conspirators not named in the complaint may have cooperated with the feds. None of the defendants are in custody, thanks to diplomatic immunity, although 11 still reside in the U.S. and six still represent Russia here.Bharara said he expects the U.S. State Department to request that Russia waive diplomatic immunity for the alleged fraudsters. If Russia refuses, as is likely, the State Department could request that the defendants still in the U.S. leave the country.
The diplomats were charged in a 62-page Manhattan Federal Court complaint that says they submitted bogus applications for medical benefits covering pregnancies, births and childcare.
Bharara said there was “systemic corruption” among Russian diplomats in the United States. Russian officials in New York covered for the defendants by signing letters saying the falsely reported income figures were true, said George Venizelos, Assistant Director-in-Charge of the FBI’s New York office.