DETROIT - Dora Binimelis had a secret.
She had two lives: one very public, the other lived in the shadows. In one life, Binimelis was a hero. In the other, she was the hunted.
If you are from Florida, she was someone so generous with her time, talents and money that she was nominated as woman of the year. Down south, she was described as a caring leader in her Miami church and a generous giver at the Minority Chamber of Commerce.
However, back here in Michigan, Binimelis is described as despicable as federal investigators detail the criminal plot to rip off taxpayers for more than $1 million.
"They're really preying on these poor and homeless individuals within the Detroit area," said Darren Bartnik, assistant special agent in charge with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Finally, the two worlds of Dora Binimelis came crashing together. Inside the federal courthouse were investigators who wanted her locked up behind bars. Outside court were friends and family who were there to support her and deliver letters to the judge singing her praises.
The Minority Chamber of Commerce writes Binimelis was nominated as their woman of the year, calling her an "authentic leader" and "extraordinary woman."
Her pastor writes she is a "loving mother and grandmother and unconditional friend," pointing out her "compassion" and "generosity," calling her a "blessing."
Another church pastor describes her as a "righteous and dignified" business woman.
But in Detroit, a very different Dora is described. The feds say she was the key to a million-dollar rip-off.
"They will ship these guys out all over the streets of Detroit looking at soup kitchens, homeless shelters, places where you have a lot of impoverished or homeless Medicare benficiaries," said Bartnik.
How the scam worked
The scam: driving around Detroit, looking for the poor and homeless, offering cash for their government Medicare and Medicaid information. Once in hand, they bill for expensive procedures that never take place, then those involved split the profits.
"It was simply a money-maker. They looked at these people, these beneficiaries, as a meal ticket, and a way to make cash fast through Medicare," said Bartnik.
Investigators say Binimelis was more than just involved, saying she "played an important role" and insisting without Dora putting up the initial money and medical equipment to open an office, it's unlikely $2.4 million in fraudulent claims could have been filed.
Binimelis pleaded guilty. Who pays for all of it? You, the taxpayers.
"Unethical. No integrity. Not something to be proud of," said Alex Timlin, of Birmingham.
She may be the "Maven of Miami," but in Metro Detroit her name is mud.
"Part of me says desperate times cause for desperate measures but to rip-off people in a town like this is just monster like."
A monster in Detroit, a role model in Miami?
"It is a double life. They represent themselves in the community as someone who is helping and someone who has the lead of the community and the benefit of the community at heart but meanwhile they are stealing for themselves," said Dr. Gerald Shiner, psychologist.
Dr. Shiner says people like Dora Binimelis feed off of the positive attention they get as givers in one community while justifying the theft in the other.
"They get a righteous attitude. They justify it by saying that stealing lets them do more for the community so they really do compartmentalize those things," said Dr. Shiner.
Not wanting to be discovered in her hometown of Miami, she helped create a crime ring 1,500 miles to the north.
"Well it's easier to take advantage of strangers than people that you know and if you're in a community full of strangers no one is going to be disappointed in you," the doctor said.
Shiner says it takes a certain kind of criminal to lead the double life which Binimelis did.
"Imagine what it would take to go to a charity dinner or a church dinner, to be honored and to have everyone talk about how much you have helped the community and deep down inside to know that you are stealing from them. Deep down inside you know that everything that you are doing is a lie," he said.
Binimelis gets 20 months in prison
On Monday, Dora Binimelis will begin a third life. She will turn herself into the Miami Bureau of Prisons where she will become a federal inmate. Because of her good deeds in Miami, there was a reduction in sentence. For her misdeeds in Detroit, she will serve 20 moths in prison and pay restitution of $1,273,000.
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