Courts & Crime

Feds: Clinic owners used Medicare payments to live large

Lawrence Duran and Marianella Valera loved spending taxpayers' money.

So much so, that the $84 million Medicare paid their Miami-based chain of mental health clinics for bogus therapy is practically gone, authorities say.

"As of right now, we can only locate $150,000" in the couple's bank accounts, Justice Department attorney Jennifer Saulino said in Miami federal court Thursday.

So, where did all the money go?

It was spent on hefty salaries, foreign cars, fancy jewelry, international travel, a bayfront condo, even tuition for Duran's children at Belen Jesuit Preparatory School and Chaminade-Madonna College Preparatory, court records show.

Prosecutors said the defendants, charged with bilking the taxpayer-funded Medicare program, have "dissipated" $77 million in government payments.

Investigators have only found assets, such as real estate, totaling $7 million.

Duran and Valera, who were romantically involved, frequently traveled to Switzerland, the Dominican Republic and Cuba. Authorities believe they may have transferred some of their Medicare millions to accounts or properties in those countries "in an attempt to defraud the United States," according to court documents.

The two co-owners of American Therapeutic Corp. were indicted Thursday along with two other company executives on charges of conspiring to fleece $200 million from the taxpayer-funded Medicare program by filing false claims for mental health services.

The feds also froze their personal and corporate bank accounts.

Duran and Valera's pretrial detention hearings are set for Tuesday. Prosecutors want the couple to remain at the Federal Detention Center in Miami until their trial, arguing they could flee the country.

Duran's attorney, Lawrence Metsch, and Valera's, Arthur Tifford, declined to comment, but it's likely they will argue for their clients' release on a bond.

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