Puerto Rico is the easternmost island of the Greater Antilles on the Caribbean Sea, approximately a thousand miles southeast of Florida and just east of the Dominican Republic and west of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The federal grand jury had indicted them following an investigation into members of the medical-licensing board. They had allegedly altered low test scores to certify unqualified candidates.
The doctors, mostly Puerto Ricans who studied medicine in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, or Cuba, paid board members bribes of as much as $10,000, according to the indictment. At least 75 were practicing medicine in Puerto Rico, some in emergency rooms, authorities said.
The arrests began near dawn. Some suspects -- including Pablo Valentin, a former executive director of the licensing board -- were seen on television being led away by local police and US Food and Drug Administration agents.
The Drug Enforcement Administration also is checking pharmacy records to determine whether the suspects prescribed medications, which could prompt felony charges as violations of the Controlled Substances Act, said Waldo Santiago, DEA spokesman.
Most of the suspects failed the licensing exam multiple times. One man failed 16 times between 1974 and 2001 before he was granted a medical license in 2002, according to the indictment.
"We cannot allow doctors who obtained their license in an irregular way to practice medicine," said Rosa Perez Perdomo, Puerto Rico's Health Department secretary. In Puerto Rico, about 10,000 doctors serve a population of 4 million.
At least five states recognize Puerto Rican medical licenses -- Arizona, Florida, New York, Texas, and Virginia -- but Perdomo said none of the suspects were known to have practiced on the mainland, according to Puerto Rico's medical licensing board.
The defendants face charges that include mail fraud and making false statements to Medicare. If convicted, most face five to 20 years in prison, said interim US Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez.