MIAMI, FL - A Weston psychiatrist was sentenced on Monday to 10 years in for his role in what United States Department of Justice Health Care Fraud Strike Force prosecutor Jennifer Saulino called "one of the largest and most brazen health care fraud conspiracies in recent memory."
Dr. Mark Willner, who practiced in Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton, was convicted of conspiracy to commit health care fraud after a six-week trial earlier this year. Prosecutors said Willner, 56, was part of a broader conspiracy involving American Therapeutic Corp., which billed the taxpayer-funded Medicare program for more than $205 million in fraudulent claims.
In her submission to U.S. District Court Judge Patricia Seitz, United States Department of Justice Heath Care Fraud Strike Force prosecutor Jennifer Saulino wrote "This massive fraud was committed by manipulating the proper treatment of Alzheimer's and dementia patients, substance abusers seeking treatment, and others convinced or cajoled into spending time at ATC."
"Without Willner and other doctors signing thousands of false and fraudulent patient documents – documents that stated he was personally directing the patients' treatment plans and having 'face-to-face' contact with the patients – ATC could not have succeeded on such an immense scale," Saulino wrote.
Psychiatrist Dr. Alberto Ayala, 68, of Coral Gables, who was also convicted at trial was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. Willner's attorney, Sam Rabin, said he intends to appeal.
Dr. Alan Gumer, M.D., who after being unable to post his own $1 million bond to secure his release from jail following his arrest, was one of the witnesses the government called to the witness stand to testify at trial. After at least five debriefings with prosecutors in the week after his arrest, Gumer's bond was cut in half before he could be released.
Rabin's cross-examination of Gumer at trial was classic. Even Judge Seitz at one point referred to Rabin as "the honorable Mr. Rabin." Attorneys interested in learning about how to cross-examine a cooperating witness would do themselves a service by studying (as have I in preparation for a pending Medicare fraud case) Mr. Rabin's, and Miami criminal defense attorney extraordinaire, Jose Quinon's cross of Gumer.
Gumer was into bookies for gambling debts and hadn't paid federal income taxes for at least 10-years. Yet despite the clear implication that Gumer's cooperation was all about saving his own neck and that he would have said just about anything on the stand in hopes of earning a significant sentencing reduction at the government's request, in the end the evidence proved to be too much for the defense to overcome.
Prosecutors said Dr. Willner and Dr. Ayala caused false and fraudulent claims to be submitted to Medicare for partial hospitalization programs.
According to prosecutor Saulino, "These co-conspirators, including Dr. Willner, victimized the most vulnerable members of our society so they could have nicer homes and fancy artwork."
More than 30 people have been charged and more than half have pleaded guilty or been convicted at trial. Last year, Lawrence Duran, the president of ATC was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Lawrence King to 50-years behind bars; ATC vice-president Judith Negron was sentenced
to 35 years. Dr. Gumer also testified at Negron's trial.