2 Cherry Hill men admit $2.5 million Medicaid fraud in Camden

Two men have admitted in federal court to Medicaid fraud totaling $2.5 million while working at a nonprofit that provides mental health services to Camden's poorest residents, prosecutors said Friday.

Cesar Tavera, 53, of Cherry Hill, embezzled more than $1.5 million while serving as executive director of Nueva Vida Behavioral Health Center of New Jersey and spent the money on his family and himself, including gambling sprees at SugarHouse Casino.

In 2015 alone, Tavera withdrew $35,000 from the nonprofit's bank account while at the casino.

Tavera pleaded guilty Thursday in U.S. District Court in Camden to conspiracy to commit health-care fraud and embezzling from a health-care program.

Andres Ayala, a 62-year-old former therapist at Nueva Vida, also pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiracy to commit health-care fraud.

Tavera and Ayala, also of Cherry Hill, routinely submitted false billings to Medicaid for services not rendered, prosecutors said.

Tavera also billed for therapy sessions provided by unqualified individuals, including himself.

The Camden office of Nueva Vida, a half-block from City Hall, was raided by federal agents last August.

Tavera and Ayala are scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 18.

Each count carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of twice the gain or loss caused by the offenses.

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