Why are Abusive Mental Health Treatment Facilities Still in Business? With dozens of for-profit psychiatric hospitals exposed last year for physical and sexual abuse of…
Lawrence Duran was a Miami healthcare executive who regularly lobbied Congress in favor of legislation to boost government subsidies for his industry: community mental health centers. He visited with U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in Washington to drum up support. He, his girlfriend and other members of his lobbying organization threw a fundraiser for another Miami congressman, Rep. Kendrick Meek, when he ran for the U.S. Senate.
But Justice Department officials paint a far more sinister portrait of Duran and his girlfriend, Marianella Valera. They say the lobbying work was all a front to help them steal more money from the taxpayer-funded Medicare program.
Now Duran and Valera, who each pleaded guilty this year to Medicare fraud charges of running the biggest mental-health racket in the nation, face the prospect of spending the rest of their lives in prison for orchestrating the $205 million scam.
Federal agents have arrested dozens of suspects charged with bilking Medicare of hundreds of millions of dollars in bogus services for mental health therapy and other types of healthcare.
Agents with Health and Human Services and the FBI have fanned out across three South Florida counties, arresting clinic owners, healthcare employees, patient recruiters and assisted living facility owners who allegedly supplied hundreds of patients to the mental health clinics.
Federal inspectors want to prevent drug-company executives from doing business with the U.S. government when their companies are convicted of Medicare fraud.
Under guidelines from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General, executives can be barred from contracting with federal health programs when they knew, or if the inspector general concludes they should have known, about fraud at their firms. The guidelines were posted Oct. 20 on the office’s Web site. Authorities have been spurred by large settlements, said Robert DeConti, chief of the administrative and civil remedies branch in the inspector general’s Office of Counsel. GlaxoSmithKline was ordered to pay $750 million on Oct. 26 for sale of defective drugs, and Pfizer agreed to pay $2.3 billion in September 2009 for fraudulent marketing of medicine.
Even by Miami-Dade’s reputation for Medicare fraud, the indictment was a shocker: American Therapeutic’s patients could not feed themselves or control their own bodily waste. Many lacked the mental capacity to respond to counseling; instead they simply stared at walls or watched TV. An employee complained that those patients should be ineligible for Medicare since they could not benefit from treatment.She got fired. That launched whistle-blower and criminal investigations that led to the Justice Department’s takedown Thursday of Miami-based American Therapeutic Corp., the nation’s largest chain of mental health clinics.