Friend of Bettis gets probation in fraud
A former oral surgeon from Fox Chapel known for his charitable work got a helping hand at his federal sentencing hearing Thursday from former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis.
Facing a maximum sentence of 18 months in prison, Alfonso A. Costa, 46, instead got three years of probation — including one year on house arrest — after U.S. District Judge Gary L. Lancaster heard from Bettis and a Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon.
“He’s a great friend of mine, kind of like a brother in a lot of senses,” Bettis told Lancaster during a hearing Downtown.
Costa and former dental partner Roberto Michienzi were charged with fraudulently billing insurance companies for about $44,000 in dental work never done.
Costa pleaded guilty to health care fraud in September for submitting a bill to Highmark in which he claimed to have extracted four impacted molars from a patient in February 2001, when he’d pulled only two impacted teeth. In all, prosecutors said about 50 fraudulent bills were submitted to seven companies over five years.
“Words cannot express the pain and sorrow I’ve felt for what I’ve caused my family,” Costa said after Lancaster imposed the sentence and ordered him to pay $44,579.47 in restitution and a $250,000 fine. “They honestly deserve better. I have worked all my life to respect others and gain the respect of others.”
Costa sold his dental practice, with offices in Oakland and Murrysville, to Michienzi in 1998 and stopped practicing in 2001. His dental license expired last year.
Costa founded Costa Land Co., which owns properties from North Fayette to Praiano, Italy. Costa has served on the Pittsburgh Opera board and has been instrumental with the Carson Scholars Fund, a charity started in 1994 by Johns Hopkins pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin Carson to provide scholarships. Bettis and Lancaster each described him yesterday as a multimillionaire.
Costa resigned his post as the national vice president for Carson Scholars when he was charged last year by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He is still instrumental in the Pittsburgh chapter, which Carson told Lancaster would likely fail without Costa’s continued involvement.
Bettis said he met Costa shortly after coming to Pittsburgh from the St. Louis Rams in 1996. Bettis said Costa has helped with his charity, The Bus Stops Here.
“He was there for me whenever I needed him,” Bettis said. “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.”
Michienzi pleaded guilty Feb. 4 to one count of health care fraud. Lancaster is scheduled to sentence him May 2.