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    Nominee picked for U.S. attorney

    Gary Montilla has led federal investigations of health care fraud in the Tampa Bay area.

    By JEFF TESTERMAN

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 3, 2001


    TAMPA -- Gary Montilla, a federal prosecutor who has headed several major health care fraud investigations in the Tampa Bay area, has been recommended by a nominating committee to be the new U.S. attorney in Puerto Rico.

    Montilla, 48, was educated in Puerto Rico and was chief of the civil division for the Office of the U.S. Attorney in Puerto Rico from 1980 to 1986. Montilla also was appointed special assistant U.S. attorney recently to serve as the lead prosecutor on several money-laundering cases there.

    "He looks like a great guy, and he has an excellent resume," said Dr. Renee Vasquez, a surgeon who sits on the nominating committee for the Puerto Rican Republican Party. "He's honest, committed to his work. He seems to know what he's doing. All of us were very impressed with him." Montilla's name will be forwarded to President Bush for consideration.

    Montilla's father was a Puerto Rican native and career military man who rose to the rank of colonel in the U.S. Army. Montilla was born in Fairbanks, Alaska, but raised in Puerto Rico. He earned his bachelor's degree and law degree from the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico.

    With family, friends and occasional prosecutorial duties in Puerto Rico, Montilla has traveled there from Tampa 20 times in the last two years.

    Montilla said an appointment to become the U.S. attorney of the island commonwealth of 4-million people would "fulfill a career aspiration."

    The Puerto Rican office has about 40 prosecutors, compared with about 100 in Tampa. All U.S. attorneys are paid $125,700 annually.

    Asked what might stand in the way of his appointment, Montilla quipped, "I'm a Democrat."

    Most of the nation's 93 U.S. attorneys change when a new political party moves into the White House. Montilla figures his recommendation by the Puerto Rican GOP means the nominators are more interested in credentials than political affiliation.

    Montilla's job experience in Puerto Rico includes two years as district director for the U.S. Census in 1979 and 1980, and two years as a private attorney in San Juan from 1978 to 1979.

    The father of two has been a prosecutor for the U.S. attorney in the Middle District of Florida since 1986, handling cases in narcotics, money-laundering, tax and health care fraud.

    Montilla's stock has risen with a track record in Tampa of successful Medicare fraud prosecutions, including investigations of scandals involving the Clearwater Clinical Laboratory, a group of illegal impotence clinics and a nationwide network of patient brokers.

    Montilla's recent casework represents about 10 percent of cases prosecuted nationwide, and has resulted in fines, forfeitures and restitution to the U.S. Government of more than $15-million.

    An outgrowth of the local Medicare kickback cases has been a streamlined prosecutorial method serving as a model for health care investigators across the U.S.

    For his work, Montilla was given the prestigious National Prosecutorial Award by the Federal Law Enforcement Officer's Association in 1998. "I've become fascinated with health care fraud," he said. "I think it's going to be with us forever."

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