$205M Medicare fraudster gets longest sentence ever

In the longest fraud sentence ever issued, American Therapeutic Corporation owner Lawrence Duran of the largest community mental health center chain was sentenced to 50 years in prison after pleading guilty to $205 million in Medicare fraud, officials announced on Friday.

The sentencing of co-owner Marianella Valera is scheduled for today. Both pleaded guilty to all counts of healthcare fraud, conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud, conspiracy to pay and receive illegal kickbacks, money laundering, and conspiracy to commit money laundering, according to a Department of Justice (DoJ) press release.  

The scheme started in 2002 and ended in October 2010 when Duran and Valera were arrested. Federal authorities said that the two used American Therapeutic Corporation, as well as Medlink (both now defunct companies), to take advantage of patients with Alzheimer's and severe dementia and forged patient charts to bill Medicare for therapy and other services that they never provided. In addition, Duran and Valera paid bribes and kickbacks to owners and operators of assisted-living facilities and half-way houses to recruit Medicare beneficiaries to attend partial hospital treatment programs, all supported through money laundering.

Duran's attorney urged the judge to reduce the sentencing time, as the previous longest sentence for Medicare fraud was 30 years, according to The Miami Herald. Duran is likely to die in prison with the 50-year sentence. With South Florida as the heart of Medicare corruption, according to the article, the 50-year sentence is likely an example of the governmental crackdown on healthcare fraud.

"Today's sentence--the longest ever imposed in a Medicare Fraud Strike Force case--reflects the reprehensibility of the defendant's conduct, and is a powerful warning sign to others inclined to cheat the Medicare program," said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division in the DoJ press release.

The Strike Force has been especially active in combating healthcare fraud. Earlier this month, the Department of Health & Human Services and the Attorney General announced the largest takedown in the Force's history, charging 91 people in eight cities for false billing schemes worth $295 million.

For more information:
- read the AP article
- read the Miami Herald article
- check out the DoJ press release

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