Healthcare exec swindled Washington, landed heaviest fraud sentence ever

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He committed $205 million in Medicare fraud, heading the largest community mental health chain that took advantage of patients with Alzheimer's and severe dementia for services never provided, prosecutors alleged. In addition to soaking Medicare for millions of dollars, he received illegal kickbacks and doled out bribes. What's more, he had lawmakers and lobbyists in Washington fooled.

Now defunct American Therapeutic Corporation owner Lawrence Duran earlier this year pleaded guilty to 38 counts of healthcare fraud, conspiracy, and money laundering, reports Politico, and last month was sentenced to 50 years in prison--the harshest healthcare fraud sentence ever issued.

Now, reports point to Duran's role in rubbing elbows with Washington's lawmakers, lobbyists, and candidates, as the founder of the trade group, National Association for Behavioral Health. The advocacy group "provided Duran a legitimate-looking vehicle to lobby Congress to allocate more money, through Medicare, to Duran and his co-conspirators for their fraudulent schemes," trial lawyer Jennifer Saulino wrote in a sentencing memo last month, reports The Washington Post. "Duran did not stop with just committing a massive fraud on the Medicare program through his own companies. Duran franchised his fraud to others," Saulino said.

The National Association for Behavioral Health spent at least $620,000 on D.C. lobbying to hire former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) and former head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Thomas Scully, reports Bloomberg.

In addition, association members held fundraisers and lobbied for the likes of Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.), and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), according to Politico. Prosecutors said that Duran was not simply a passive member of the National Association for Behavioral Health and "instigated lobbying efforts."

Prosecutors have not accused the association, lobbyists, or lawmakers of any wrongdoing, according to the Bloomberg article.

"I am sorry, and I have been for years," Duran testified at his sentencing hearing, reports The Washington Post. "Not that day that I was arrested, but for years and years. I had to live with all of this for a very long time," he said. With the 50-year sentence, Duran is likely to die in prison.

For more information:
- read the Politico article
- see the Bloomberg article
- read The Washington Post article

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