Florida psychiatrists Mark Willner and Alberto Ayala get 10 years prison for fraud; must pay back more than $138 million

October 5, 2012

A Weston psychiatrist was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison and ordered to pay more than $51.9 million in restitution Monday for his role in what prosecutors 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 found guilty of conspiracy to commit health care fraud earlier this year.

He has been locked up at the Federal Detention Center in Miami since the jury verdict on June 1 because the trial judge said he was a flight risk.

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.

"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," prosecutor Jennifer Saulino wrote in court documents.

"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," she wrote.

Willner intends to appeal his conviction and punishment, his attorney Samuel Rabin said.

A second South Florida psychiatrist, Dr. Alberto Ayala, 68, of Coral Gables, was also sentenced Monday to 10 years in federal prison for his role in the fraud conspiracy. Ayala, who has also been locked up since June 1, was ordered to pay more than $87.4 million in restitution.

Jurors in the case found both men guilty of the conspiracy but not guilty of other health care fraud offenses.

Prosecutors said the two caused false and fraudulent claims to be submitted to Medicare for partial hospitalization programs. Multiple witnesses testified that doctors did not treat the patients but merely signed forms indicating they did.

One witness testified that he saw Willner signing dozens of prescriptions over lunch – without meeting with the patients – to ensure there were valid-looking documents in their files.

Prosecutors said that many of the patients involved were denied the medical treatment they needed so the defendants could submit fraudulent billing for costlier care they didn't need.

"These co-conspirators, including Dr. Willner, victimized the most vulnerable members of our society so they could have nicer homes and fancy artwork," Saulino wrote.

More than 30 defendants have been charged and more than half have pleaded guilty or been convicted at trial, prosecutors said. ATC's six clinics in South Florida were shut down two years ago.

The fraud went on for eight years and involved hundreds of employees and associates, according to court records.

Source: Paula McMahon, "Weston doctor imprisoned for healthcare fraud in Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale," South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com, October 1, 2012.


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