Like other candidates, Ben Carson's approach to fraud is long on talk, short on action
Presidential candidate and noted neurosurgeon Ben Carson is grappling with how to handle healthcare fraud. By all appearances, he is losing that battle to himself.
Carson's approach to reducing fraud is certainly unique. In his book "America the Beautiful," published in 2013, Carson advocated for a no-nonsense approach to fraud, similar to the way theft is punished in Saudi Arabia.
"Why don't people steal very often in Saudi Arabia?" he wrote. "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."
So you won't lose your pinky finger if you commit fraud--but all your personal possessions? Sounds like someone who wants to get tough on fraud. However, as Mother Jones pointed out recently, that approach wouldn't apply if you're one of Carson's good friends, such as convicted fraudster Alfonso Costa.
In September 2007, Costa, an oral surgeon, pleaded guilty to one count of healthcare fraud for overbilling $44,000 in dental work surgeries, including one instance in which he billed for the extraction of four impacted molars rather than two. Prosecutors claimed that, all told, Costa submitted roughly 50 fraudulent bills to seven companies over five years.
Costa didn't even get the maximum sentence of 18 months. Instead he was sentenced to three years of probation, including one year of house arrest.
You see, Costa just so happens to be friends with Carson. Best friends, actually. Willing to push aside his Saudi Arabian approach, Carson wrote a letter to U.S. District Judge Gary L. Lancaster who was presiding over the sentencing, asking him to show leniency toward Costa, according to investigations by Mother Jones and the Associated Press. (Costa was good at making friends in high places, apparently, as Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis also wrote a letter to the judge, advocating for leniency in the sentencing.)
"Al Costa is my very best friend," Carson said in a statement. "I know his heart. I am proud to call him my friend. I have always and will continue to stand by him. That is what real friends do!"
Of course, Costa happened to own a real estate development firm that netted Carson as much as $2 million, but I'm sure that had nothing to do with it.