American Therapeutic Corp. in Miami, the nation’s largest chain of mental health clinics, is the latest operation to be shut down by the Justice Department for Medicare fraud. Federal investigators allege that the company may have bilked taxpayers of some $84 million in bogus claim payments.
According to The Miami Herald, the company’s two top executives, Lawrence Duran and Marianella Valera, operated the seven-clinic chain in south Florida without regard to patient safety or medical needs, lining up a steady stream of patients by paying bribes to a network of recruiters. Once there, officials claim, ATC billed for therapy sessions that never occurred, or were inappropriate for the patients’ conditions.
The operation was exposed to authorities by a whistle-blower lawsuit from a former employee. That employee was fired by the ATC after she complained that the company was billing Medicare for treatments for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients who could not possibly benefit from the therapy. The couple is also accused of altering patient records, medical diagnoses and therapy session notes to make the operation appear legitimate to Medicare examiners.
According to court records, company bank accounts were used to fund the executive’s lavish lifestyle, including expensive sport cars, motorcycles, jewelry, and condos, and trips to Switzerland, Dominic Republic and Cuba. The company also made private-school tuition payments on behalf of Duran’s children.