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By Beatrice Dupuy and Jay Weaverm, The Miami Herald

MIAMI — A Miami man has vanished after a fishing trip in the Florida Keys — or possibly fled to Cuba to escape pending Medicare fraud charges.

The U.S. Coast Guard said Thursday that it is continuing its search for Robert A. Garcia-Esquerro, who disappeared after leaving the Key West Marina Saturday morning aboard the Miss Juliette, a 28-foot white center console boat with a yellow stripe.

Garcia-Esquerro, 43, was believed to be alone, said Petty Officer Mark Barney of U.S. Coast Guard Group Key West.

“We are trying everything we can to locate him,” said Barney. “Why he’s missing is pretty much on the back burner to search and rescue.”

Garcia’s wife reported that Garcia-Esquerro was supposed to return Saturday night from what he told her would be a fishing trip. The Coast Guard started its search the next day. The weather around Key West during the first weekend of grouper season was sloppy, with wind gusts up to 20 knots and rough sea conditions off-shore.

After several days of failing to spot the small boat or its captain, officials decided to notify the news media Thursday about Garcia-Esquerro. Barney said the search was most recently focused in an area 10 to 15 miles south of Marathon.

After federal officials disclosed that Garcia-Esquerro was also wanted on a federal warrant for health-care fraud charges in Miami, there were questions about whether he was missing or did not want to be found.

The Miami Herald confirmed Thursday that Garcia-Esquerro has been charged with Medicare fraud under a sealed indictment returned by a federal grand jury earlier this year. Under those circumstances, however, the pending charges would remain confidential. It’s unclear how — or if — Garcia-Esquerro might have known that he was facing arrest.

If he did flee to Cuba, it wouldn’t be unusual. Over the past decade, a string of people sought on healthcare fraud charges in Miami have escaped the legal system by returning home to the Cuba.

Garcia-Esquerro once worked for several mental-health clinics in Miami-Dade, including his father’s facility, Latin Quarter, which operated on Flagler Street during the previous decade. Latin Quarter, which closed in 2010, was among the top-billing Medicare-licensed psychotherapy clinics in the nation, filing more than $10 million annually, records show.

The father, Robert F. Garcia-Esquerro, is a disbarred Cuban American lawyer who was convicted of money laundering and bank fraud in 1993, according to Miami federal court records. He was sentenced to two years in prison. After his release, the father opened numerous healthcare and other businesses, records show.

Photo: “orangejack” via Flickr

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