Ben Carson is standing behind his close friend and business partner Alfonso A. Costa, a Pittsburgh dentist who was convicted of defrauding insurance companies.
“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,” Carson said in a Thursday statement first obtained by Bloomberg.
Carson's relationship with Costa became an issue when the the Associated Press, earlier in the day, reported that the Republican presidential candidate served as a character witness for the dentist during a 2008 sentencing hearing. Costa pleaded guilty to one felony count of health care fraud in connection with charging patients for procedures that he did not perform and costing insurance companies a loss of $40,000. The AP reported that Carson described Costa as “one of my closest, if not my very closest friend” during the hearing.
Though Costa could have been sentenced to up to 10 years in prison, he ultimately was sentenced to a one-year house arrest.
“Next to my wife of 32 years, there is no one on this planet that I trust more than Al Costa,” Carson said at the hearing, according to the AP. Carson was one of three character witnesses who testified on behalf of Costa. Another was former Pittsburgh Steelers star Jerome Bettis.
In Carson's 2013 book America the Beautiful, Carson advocated for tough punishments for those who are guilty of medical fraud.
“Why don't people steal very often in Saudi Arabia? Obviously because the punishment is the amputation of one or more fingers,” Carson wrote in the book. “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.”
According to the AP, two real estate companies—BenCan LLC and INBS LLC—listed on the financial disclosure form that Carson filed with the federal government (a requirement for presidential candidates), are incorporated at Costa's home address. Carson put the value of the companies, described as owning "commercial real estate," at more than $1 million each and reported earning in the $100,000 to $1 million range from each of them. Federal financial disclosure forms require assets to be listed only in broad categories of value, rather than precise amounts.