A Pittsburgh dentist who was found guilty of defrauding a health insurance company for five figures is Ben Carson’s “best friend.” The frontrunner in the GOP presidential primary race made a statement after the Associated Press published a report that showed Carson served as a character witness for Costa. The disgraced doctor (Costa, not Carson) was convicted in 2008 in Pennsylvania.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Carson Said ‘I Have Alway & Will Continue to Stand By Costa’
The full statement from Carson read:
Al Costa is my best friend. Al Costa is my very best friend. 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.
During Costa’s 2008 trial, the AP says:
Next to my wife of 32 years, there is no one on this planet that I trust more than Al Costa.
For his crimes, Costa could have faced 10 years in prison but eventually received one-year house arrest. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported in 2008 that Costa pleaded guilty to submitting “false or exaggerated bills to various insurance companies.” The scam went on between 1996 to 2001 and made his practice $42,000.
2. Former Pittsburg Steeler Jerome Bettis Also Testified in Favor of Costa
The Pittsburgh Tribune reported in 2008 that Costa was able to call on former Pittsburgh Steelers Jerome Bettis to testify in the dentist’s favor. During the trial, Bettis said that Costa was “a great friend of mine, kind of like a brother in a lot of senses.” He added “He was there for me whenever I needed him. He was my runner. It’s not often you get a multimillionaire to run your errands for you. In my life, I value time more than money. In the position we’re in, you can stroke a check anytime.”
That reports also says that Costa also provided “a Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon” as a character witness. Carson served as the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at John Hopkins from 1984 until his retirement from surgery in 2013.
3. Carson Wrote in His 2013 Autobiography That Those Who Are Convicted of Insurance Fraud Should Be Jailed for 10 Years
In his 2013 book American the Beautiful, Carson advocated for strict punishments against those who are found guilty of insurance fraud. The Republican presidential candidate wrote:
Why don’t people steal very often in Saudi Arabia? 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.
Online documents show that Costa’s dental license was revoked in 2009. This was “based on his guilty plea to one felony count of healthcare fraud in federal court.” Those docs also mention Costa’s partner at his dental practice, Roberto C. Michienzi, who was also found guilty in the same fraud case.
4. Costa Sits on the Board of the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame as Well as Numerous Carson Charities
According to his LinkedIn page, Costa sits on the board of the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame as well as the Pittsburgh Opera. He’s the President of the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Carson Scholars Fund. His LinkedIn notes that “Dr. Costa’s direct involvement with the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Carson Scholars Fund has helped to award over 400 Pittsburgh-area students with scholarships.”
Even prior to leaving his dental practice, Costa had a real estate investment company named Costa Land. His profile there says “The son of Italian immigrants, Dr. Costa learned first-hand the value of hard work, education, integrity, and loyalty.” That bio mentions that he’s married to his wife Mary and that the couple have two daughters and two sons.
5. Latest Polls Have Carson ‘Essentially Even’ With Donald Trump With Republicans
The latest ABC News poll in the wake of the November 10 GOP primary debate puts Carson tied with Donald Trump in terms of popularity within the Republican party. Though Carson is more popular among the general public.