New York transplant Lawrence Duran once ran a multimillion-dollar mental health company in Miami, lobbied Congress for his industry and tooled around town in a Maserati.
His next stop: federal prison — likely for the rest of his life.
On Friday, a federal judge slammed Duran, 49, with a 50-year prison sentence for orchestrating a staggering $205 million scam at his Miami-based chain of mental health clinics.
The sentence may end up being the longest prison term ever imposed on someone convicted of Medicare fraud.
Duran’s lawyer, Lawrence Metsch, had urged the judge to be realistic and give him a sentence between 20 and 25 years, arguing that 50 years means a “death sentence because he would die in prison.”
But U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King, after a three-day sentencing hearing, sided with the government’s push for the extraordinarily high sentence, saying there is a “critical need for deterrence against healthcare fraud” in South Florida, the nation’s capital of Medicare corruption.
Previously, the highest Medicare fraud sentence was 30 years — given in 2008 to a Miami physician, Ana Alvarez-Jacinto, convicted in an HIV-therapy scheme.
After the sentencing, Duran shook his lawyer’s hand and then smiled to tearful relatives, as he shuffled in shackles out of the courtroom escorted by U.S. marshals. His ex-wife, Carmen Duran, and his only sibling, Kenia Duran Ramirez, said the judge’s sentence was not a “fair assessment” of the former executive’s life, saying his work for the mentally ill was “not all bad.”
This year, Duran and his girlfriend, Marinella Valera, co-owners of American Therapeutic Corp., pleaded guilty to a variety of conspiracy, fraud and money-laundering charges after they failed to reach plea deals with the Justice Department.
Duran, in custody since his arrest last October, was probably his own worst enemy during the sentencing hearing. Although he showed remorse for running American Therapeutic as a criminal enterprise for eight years, he also admitted he tried to steal as much money as he could from the taxpayer-funded Medicare program.
His company collected $87 million in Medicare payments after submitting $205?million in bogus bills, which he generated by paying kickbacks to recruiters to supply patients suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s and addictions. He admitted they could not have benefited from his company’s purported group therapy sessions.
Justice Department attorney Jennifer Saulino called Duran a “cold, calculating man” who exploited both vulnerable patients and the government’s healthcare program for the elderly and disabled. She said he manipulated employees, including doctors, to change thousands of patients’ records to make it look like they needed the costly therapy when they didn’t.