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Mental-health executive gets 35 years for fraud

MIAMI (Reuters) - A Miami mental-health executive was sentenced to 35 years in prison on Monday for her role in a $205 million healthcare fraud scheme.

Marianella Valera, 40, the co-owner of Miami-based American Therapeutic Corp, was arrested last October on charges that she helped orchestrate what prosecutors described in court documents as "one of the largest and most brazen healthcare fraud conspiracies" in U.S. history.

Her sentencing in federal court on Monday by U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King followed the 50-year sentence King handed down on Friday for her co-defendant and co-owner of American Therapeutic, Lawrence Duran.

Both prison sentences are believed to be the harshest ever for defrauding Medicare, the federal insurance plan for the elderly and disabled.

Prosecutors said American Therapeutic, operating out of the southeastern city widely viewed by law enforcement officials as the healthcare fraud capital of the United States, billed Medicare for more than $205 million in claims over eight years for mental health services that were either unnecessary or never provided to patients.

In addition to their time behind bars, Valera and Duran were ordered "jointly" or with other co-defendants to repay $87.5 million in restitution, covering the amount of fraudulent bills that Medicare actually paid out to American Therapeutic over eight years.

Valera and Duran had both pleaded guilty to their massive fraud in April, some six months after their arrests.

American Therapeutic was one of the nation's largest chains of community mental health centers licensed by Medicare.

Before Judge King's sentencing of Valera and Duran, the highest Medicare fraud sentence was 30 years. It was handed out in 2008 to a Miami physician, Ana Alvarez-Jacinto, convicted in an HIV-therapy scheme.

(Reporting by Tom Brown; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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