Courts & Crime

Miami couple plead guilty to Medicare fraud

A Miami couple charged with directing the nation’s largest mental healthcare racket to fleece Medicare of $200 million pleaded guilty Thursday to fraud and other charges in federal court.

Lawrence Duran, 49, and Marianella Valera, 40, owners of a Miami-based chain of seven clinics called American Therapeutic Corp., were indicted last October with conspiring to defraud the taxpayer-funded Medicare program. The high-profile case also includes 22 other defendants, from senior company employees to psychiatrists to patient recruiters.

A week ago, the company’s marketing director, Margarita Acevedo, 41, became the first defendant to plead guilty when she admitted playing a central role in the alleged conspiracy. Acevedo, who is cooperating with authorities as part of her plea agreement, said she paid millions of dollars in kickbacks to South Florida recruiters associated with assisted-living facilities and halfway houses in exchange for supplying the therapy services to thousands of patients who didn’t need them.

Among American Therapeutic’s patients: elderly people suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease who could not have benefited from the costly group therapy sessions, according to prosecutors.

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