By Emily Flitter
NEW YORK, Dec 5 (Reuters) - 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 on Thursday, the diplomats' families got around $1.5 million in benefits from the Medicaid program for families with monthly income of about $3,000 or less. The benefits covered costs related to pregnancies, births and infant care, the charges say.
Each of the 49 people was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and one count of conspiracy to steal government funds and make false statements relating to healthcare 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.
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 was not immediately available for comment on the case.
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 recently signed off on a law barring Americans, including some U.S. Justice Department officials, from Moscow. Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office brought the healthcare fraud charges, is among those banned from Russia.
(Reporting by Emily Flitter; Additional reporting my Michelle Nichols, Steve Gutterman and Nate Raymond; Editing by David Gregorio) Keywords: USA RUSSIA/HEALTHFRAUD
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