When Americans think of Medicaid fraud, most probably don’t imagine that the perpetrators are agents of a foreign government. However, according to The Los Angeles Times, this is the case for almost 50 current and former Russian diplomats and their families costing taxpayers about $1.5 million in fraudulently obtained benefits. The diplomats lied about their income levels to exploit a loophole that is in place so women seeking prenatal care do not have to wait until their income levels can be verified.
These revelations come after an 18-month investigation by the FBI and the Justice Department. The State Department was quick to comment in an attempt to ensure that these allegations did not threaten the fragile friendship of the two countries. Marie Harf, a spokeswoman from State, told the LA Times, “We don’t think this should affect our bilateral relationship with Russia. Quite frankly, there are too many important issues we have to work on together.” Instead she said it’s in the hands of the justice system.
However, Russian news outlets reported that the Russian government was surprised, considering they only discovered the investigation after the charges were filed. They said that they were “bewildered” that they had not attempted to resolve this problem through normal diplomatic channels.
According to The Wall Street Journal, “prosecutors alleged that defendants routinely bought luxury goods and took expensive vacations during the time they were receiving the benefits from Medicaid,” in a 62-page complaint filed in Manhattan. The diplomats worked for various diplomatic arms of the Russian government, from those working at the United Nations to the Trade Federation.
With relations between the US and Moscow strained over the past few years, many wonder if this will further complicate the relationship or if, like Ms. Harf suggests, it will barely be noticeable. Still, the very public nature of the court filing could be an embarrassment to the Russian government who would have most likely preferred to quietly pay restitution.