Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson has business ties to a close friend convicted of defrauding insurance companies and testified on the friend’s behalf, helping him avoid prison time, even as Carson has since called for such crimes to be punished harshly.

AP reports exclusively:

Pittsburgh dentist Alfonso A. Costa pleaded guilty to a felony count of health care fraud after an FBI probe into his oral surgery practice found he had charged for procedures he never performed, according to court records.

Though the crime carries a potential sentence of up to 10 years in federal prison, Costa was able to avoid prison time after Carson helped petition a federal judge for leniency.

That’s different from the position Carson took in 2013 as he prepared to launch his presidential campaign, saying those convicted of health care fraud should go to prison for at least a decade and be forced to forfeit “all of one’s personal possessions.”

At Costa’s 2008 sentencing hearing, Carson described the dentist as “one [of] my closest, if not my very closest friend.”

Carson and his wife make between $200,000 and $2 million a year through investments in a multimillion-dollar commercial real estate enterprise controlled by Costa, according to financial records Carson was required to file when entering the race for the White House.

Costa has also served on the board of Carson’s charity, the Carson Scholars Fund, and continues to lead the charity’s fundraising efforts in the Pittsburgh area. The charity provides $1,000 college scholarships to students in need.

Federal prosecutors charged Costa with acts of fraud committed over a nearly five-year period. Investigators determined that his practice charged more than 50 patients for procedures that had not been performed, resulting in more than $40,000 in fraudulent billings to insurance companies.

After Costa pleaded guilty, 40 of his family members, friends and patients wrote letters to the judge as character witnesses. Joining Carson in testifying on Costa’s behalf was the beloved former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis.

AP continues:

Carson’s appeal for leniency toward Costa contradicts the draconian criminal penalties he called for in his 2013 political treatise, “America the Beautiful.” In his book, Carson wrote that anyone found guilty of health care fraud should face what he called the “Saudi Arabian Solution.”

“Why don’t people steal very often in Saudi Arabia?” Carson asked. “Obviously because the punishment is the amputation of one or more fingers. I would not advocate chopping off people’s limbs, but there would be some very stiff penalties for this kind of fraud, such as loss of one’s medical license for life, no less than 10 years in prison, and loss of all of one’s personal possessions.”

Read more here.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.


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