By Jay Weaver
The Miami Herald
A federal judge Monday (9/19/2011) issued another lengthy sentence in one of the nation's biggest mental-health fraud cases, sending a Miami therapist to prison for 35 years.
The sentencing of Marianella Valera, 40, came only days after the same judge sent her 49-year-old boyfriend, Lawrence Duran, to prison for 50 years. The pair ran Miami-based American Therapeutic Corp, which prosecutors say defrauded the taxpayer-funded Medicare program of more than $200 million.
The couple's company, with clinics stretching from Miami to Fort Lauderdale to Orlando, collected $87 million in Medicare payments after submitting $205 million in false claims. The couple paid kickbacks to recruiters to supply patients suffering from dementia, Alzheimer's and addictions, but they could not have benefited from the company's purported group therapy sessions.
Valera and Duran also threw "charting" parties, where they and other American Therapeutic employees altered patients' records to make it look like they needed the purported group therapy sessions when they didn't.
A total of 34 people, including American Therapeutic employees, doctors, therapists, nurses and recruiters, have been charged in the ongoing fraud case, which is being investigated by the FBI and Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General.
Previously, federal agents busted 42 South Florida suspects on Medicare fraud charges as part of a Justice Department sweep, including the owners of Biscayne Milieu Health Center, a Fort Lauderdale psychiatrist, Dr. Gary Kushner, patient recruiters and assisted living facility landlords. Out-of-state patients, suffering from disabilities and addictions, were lured to South Florida with the promise of a roof over their head. But once they arrived, with their valuable Medicare cards in hand, they would be squeezed into rundown assisted-living facilities and steered to purported mental-health programs — at a multimillion-dollar cost to taxpayers, authorities say. If they dropped out of the group therapy sessions, the assisted living facility owners would toss the patients out into the street.
Crime in Mental Health Care
For decades psychiatrists and psychologists have claimed a monopoly over the field of mental health. Governments and private health insurance companies have provided them with billions of dollars every year to treat "mental illness," only to face industry demands for even more funds to improve the supposed, ever-worsening state of mental health. No other industry can afford to fail consistently and expect to get more funding.
A significant portion of these appropriations and insurance reimbursements has been lost due to financial fraud within the mental health industry, an international problem estimated to cost more than a hundred billion dollars every year. The United States loses approximately $100 billion to health care fraud each year, with up to $40 billion of this due to fraudulent practices in the mental health industry.
For more information about psychiatric fraud, download and read the free CCHR booklet, Massive Fraud – Psychiatry’s Corrupt Industry – Report and recommendations on the criminal mental health monopoly.