By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Since the 1970s mobster Tommy Farese has been a recurring character on the pages of South Florida newspapers.
So it was surprising when the reputed Colombo family consiglieri didn’t make the Sun-Sentinel last week for his latest alleged caper: a $93-million health care fraud scheme.
Thomas Ralph Farese, also known as “Tom Mix,” is 78 years old now and living in Delray Beach. But instead of wiling away his golden years playing shuffleboard, Farese was out front in a pair of huge kickback schemes involving “durable medical equipment and genetic cancer screening,” according to the Justice Department.
On his LinkedIn page, Farese calls himself an “entrepreneur.”
Joining Farese as a defendant in the case is old pal, Colombo family associate Pat Truglia, 53, of Parkland. Both men, along with Domenic J. Gatto, 46, of Palm Beach Gardens, and Nicholas Defonte, 72, and Christopher Cirri, 63, both of Toms River, N.J., are charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud between October 2017 and April 2019.
Farese court docket sealed
Gatto and Defonte posted bonds of $700,000 each and were released. Cirri posted a $500,00 bond. The status of Farese and Truglia is not public. Oddly, because the charges against them are public, their cases remain sealed.
Farese and Truglia were also co-defendants in a money-laundering case in Brooklyn, NY in 2012. Farese was acquitted then. Truglia was convicted of laundering the proceeds of loan sharking.
Gatto is the developer of the proposed $100-million Banyan Cay resort complex in West Palm Beach, the Palm Beach Post reported.
If convicted, each man faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross profit or loss caused by the offense, whichever is greater.
The case was brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark, NJ. Two additional New Jersey men pleaded guilty last month before U.S. District Judge Kevin McNulty: Brian Herbstman, 46, for conspiracy to commit health care fraud and to violate the Anti-Kickback statute, and Sean Hogan, 48, for money-laundering conspiracy. They are to be sentenced in August.
Prosecutors would not discuss the case beyond a press release that was issued, or say why the 15-page indictment doesn’t mention Farese’s and Truglia’s mob connections.
“Each of the defendants played a role in defrauding health care benefit programs by offering, paying, soliciting and receiving kickbacks and bribes in exchange for completed doctors’ orders for durable medical equipment [DME], namely orthotic braces,” the April 22nd press release says.
According to the indictment, Farese, Truglia, Gatto and their co-conspirators had hidden financial interests in a variety of DME companies that paid kickbacks to suppliers of DME orders. In exchange for those orders, the DME companies fraudulently billed Medicare and other federal health plans, TRICARE and CHAMPVA.
TRICARE is the Department of Defense health care program for active-duty service members and their family. CHAMPVA is a Department of Veteran’s Affairs benefit for certain dependents of living and dead veterans.
Truglia and others also allegedly owned and operated call centers, where they obtained DME orders for Medicare beneficiaries. The call centers paid “illegal kickbacks and bribes to telemedicine companies” to obtain the DME orders. In turn, the telemedicine companies paid physicians to write medically unnecessary DME orders provide to companies owned by Farese, Truglia, Gatto and others in exchange for bribes, authorities said.
“The defendants caused losses to Medicare, TRICARE and CHAMPVA of approximately $93 million,” the government press release said.
Farese as smuggling ‘mastermind’
Farese first made headlines in Fort Lauderdale following his 1978 indictment for being the “mastermind” of a large marijuana smuggling and distribution operation under the cover of his Olympic Shipping Lines operation. He ran the scheme from 1974 through much of 1977 out of an office above the old Bridge Restaurant at 3200 E. Oakland Park Blvd.
The case was sensational because it included allegations of bribery against a pair of former state representatives that arose out of conversations tape-recorded by police in Farese’s office.
Organized crime strike force prosecutors convicted Farese in 1980. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison, but was released in 1994.
Within months, undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agents were on Farese’s tail. The agents posed as drug dealers who wanted to launder more than $1 million. Farese had hidden interests in a trio of strip clubs – Hialeah’s Club Pink Pussycat, Goldfinger in Sunrise, and Club Diamonds in West Palm Beach. Agents said that for a fee Farese washed more than $1.1 million in purported drug money for them before his racketeering indictment in January 1996.
Farese later pleaded guilty and got 10 years, plus six years special parole. He was released from prison in 2005.
Farese was arrested again in January 2012, this time by FBI agents in New York. The charge: money laundering. The same day, Pat Truglia was arrested for the same offense in Florida.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department moved to revoke Farese’s parole because of the money-laundering violation. He was locked up again until Sept. 21, 2012.
After a December 2012 trial in federal court in Brooklyn, Farese was acquitted of the money- laundering charge, but Truglia was convicted. The New York Daily News reported the case was “severely hobbled by the absence of two mob rats who secretly recorded the evidence, but were kept off the witness stand because they had been engaging in misconduct while working as informants.”