Employee Profile: Omar Pérez Aybar
Special Agent in Charge Omar Pérez Aybar knows firsthand why diversity is so important, recognizing how his heritage has been beneficial in his career as a federal health care fraud investigator.
Pérez Aybar reflected on his background and 24-year career during National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 through October 15. He said that it is important for Americans of Hispanic descent to be proud of their culture and confidently use their unique viewpoints to enrich their personal and professional lives and the lives of those around them.
“When asked, I tell people: Don’t shy away from who you are; embrace it. You and your colleagues are all professional and harness similar skillsets, but you can leverage your own personality and upbringing for success.” he said.
Pérez Aybar added that diversity and inclusion is a priority at HHS-OIG and the organization benefits when individuals with diverse backgrounds lend their knowledge and experiences to help advance OIG’s mission. “It creates the broadest solution set possible,” he said.
In one case early in his career as a special agent, Pérez Aybar went undercover to investigate alleged health care fraudsters who were originally from the Dominican Republic. Fluent in Spanish and having lived in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico for years as a child, he had an advantage that bolstered his team’s ability to achieve the intended results.
“Understanding the Dominican culture and its idiosyncrasies helped us tremendously in this case. I was able to leverage the vibrant lexicon and my knowledge of the Dominican Republic’s culture to put the target at ease and secure the evidence we needed to obtain an indictment. Knowing I was helping protect Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries from stolen prescription drugs, transported in zip locked bags in trunks of cars, was very rewarding,” Pérez Aybar explained.
Pérez Aybar ’s Early Years in a Family Dedicated to Public Service
His life started in Jacksonville, Florida, where he was born to a father serving in the U.S. Navy and his mother, a homemaker. Weeks after birth, Pérez Aybar went to live with his grandparents and older brother in the Dominican Republic, where both of his parents were born. He and his brother were reunited with his parents and newborn sister in Puerto Rico where they lived for several years, starting elementary school at Roosevelt Roads Naval Air Station.
A “true Navy brat,” Pérez Aybar said he moved every few years in his childhood. By high school, Pérez Aybar settled with his family in New York City’s Inwood neighborhood in Manhattan. After high school, he yearned for more independence, so he moved into a small apartment in a three-story brownstone building in the Bronx that was owned by his uncle. Always mature for his age, Pérez Aybar worked three jobs while attending the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where he graduated.
Pérez Aybar said he became interested in working for the government because so many family members had careers in public service, sharing a passion for protecting people. In addition to both his grandfathers’ public service in the Dominican Republic (in both military and politics) and his father’s longtime service in the Navy, Pérez Aybar’s older brother works for the United Nations, and his younger sister is a physician’s assistant completing her studies to become a registered nurse.
While in college, he participated in several law enforcement internships – with the New York Police Department, the U.S. Marshalls Service, and U.S. Customs – before landing a paid internship with HHS-OIG’s Office of Investigations (OI) in the New York region.
Early Career in New York and Puerto Rico
After college graduation, Pérez Aybar was hired as a special agent and attended the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in February 1999. By June of 2000, Pérez Aybar was transferred to the Puerto Rico field office where he frequently used his Spanish skills and, he added, his dance moves: for two years, he was an assistant Salsa instructor, leading beginners at the YMCA in San Juan.
“Law enforcement work suits my personality and mindset. I’ve always been a ‘people person,’ enjoy interacting with people, curious about the lenses through which they see the world – so that part of the job came very easy to me. I was pretty good at securing human intelligence to piece together fraud schemes, figuring out how human behavior turned up the missing pieces, and looking beyond the story people would tell us to uncover the truth,” Pérez Aybar said.
These early years of his career were also momentous ones for his personal life as well.
“When I arrived in Puerto Rico, I was single. Five and a half years later, I transferred back to New York, this time with a beautiful wife and two children. Clearly, the islands enchantment worked on me!” he said, noting that his family now includes four sons and a daughter.
When Pérez Aybar relocated to New York in the summer of 2005, he and his family lived with his mother and in-laws for a year before buying a house in East Brunswick, New Jersey, located in the middle of the state. Although he loved the work, the commute – 2.5 hours each way – 5 days per week was difficult while juggling a demanding job and family time. After two years, he requested a transfer to the Miami office. In Fall 2007, he reported to Miami where he worked for a little over two years as a special agent before promoting to Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC) in February 2010 and later to Special Agent in Charge (SAC) in July 2019.
The Importance of Mentoring and Training
As an ASAC, Pérez Aybar relished his role in mentoring and coaching his team.
“There’s a saying in Spanish, ‘Porque tropezar con la misma piedra’ which translates to ‘why trip on the same stone’ that guides my interest in sharing,” he said. “Helping others on our team, sharing lessons learned and best practices, is fulfilling to me. It’s all about paying it forward.”
In fact, Pérez Aybar started proactively mentoring others early in his career. As a junior special agent in Puerto Rico, he developed a Mentored Agent Program to help new agents gain competencies he believed all special agents need to be successful in investigations and in their careers. This program was adopted and modified as an agency wide on-the-job checklist. The timing of the national implementation was ideal since the Medicare Fraud Strike Force initiative spurred a sharp uptick in OIG’s hiring of investigators.
Having served in the office’s original Management Development Program in 2006, Pérez Aybar saw an opportunity to create a Leadership and Management Program (LAMP) to expose senior agents to the skillsets required to lead at the next level. In 2013, the LAMP was implemented in the Miami region as a pilot and, after a successful run, the program was adopted, enhanced, and rolled out as a national leadership development program in 2015.
Pride in Law Enforcement’s Role and Educating the Public on How Investigators Work
Pérez Aybar often mentions how proud he is of the work that he and his colleagues do to protect federal health care programs and the public. He said that HHS-OIG’s mission and evolution of the investigative work keeps him motivated.
“Law enforcement is a profession rooted in trust and fairness; we’re trusted to triage allegations fairly and impartially when they arise. We gather facts, dedicated to finding the truth, pursuing justice, and holding wrongdoers accountable,” he said. “The public relies on us to have integrity and work hard in our service. My colleagues and I embody the tenets of our profession and focus of our mission.”
As a member of the South Florida Federal Executive Boards’ English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Speakers Program, Pérez Aybar visits local middle and high school students enrolled in ESOL recounting stories of his assimilation journey. In doing so, he hopes to inspire the students to adopt an attitude of deliberate focus and repetitive practice to bridge the gap between their home and new country — and to consider joining the law enforcement community as a career.
Perez Aybar also enjoys leveraging his Spanish speaking ability to share HHS-OIG’s impact and educate the Spanish speaking communities through engagement with radio and television media outlets.
Protecting Vulnerable Populations, Including Unaccompanied Minors
Protecting vulnerable people led to many investigative successes in Pérez Aybar’s career, including the impactful cases involving care for unaccompanied minors who enter the United States without citizenship status.
In 2015, HHS-OIG investigators were tasked with investigating alleged mistreatment of unaccompanied minors residing in HHS facilities. Pérez Aybar established a squad, of mostly Spanish speakers, to focus on these investigations, crafting a methodology to work these cases effectively while protecting the identities of the children.
One investigation that he supervised involved an employee of a Florida facility abusing several unaccompanied minors under the employee’s care. The U.S. Attorney’s Office used evidence provided by OIG agents to successfully prosecute the employee.
“These cases did not involve the misuse of federal money, but it’s incredibly important to protect such a vulnerable population of children separated from their parents and hold those guilty of abusing such minors responsible for their crimes,” Pérez Aybar said. “The public is rightfully concerned about these children. Our work with this population is at the very core of the trust the public puts in our society to take care of kids who can’t protect themselves.”
“Protecting the public, particularly those who are harmed by criminals is at the center of our investigative work; it’s why I chose this career. Pérez Aybar said, adding, “for me ‘Es un honor servir’ which means ‘It’s an honor to serve’!”