2 guilty in insurance bribe scheme United Healthcare Inc. involved in kickbacks


A former U.S. Public Health Service official and an alleged labor racketeer have been convicted of conspiracy and bribery charges tied to an insurance kickback scheme involving Woodlawn-based United Healthcare Inc.

The trial jury deliberated 14 hours over four days in U.S. District Court in Baltimore before it convicted John B. LaFrance, 48, alias Jim Lofton, of Haddonfield, N.J., the former public health service official, and Angelo T. Commito, 44, of Chicago, and Palm Desert, Calif., the alleged racketeer, of conspiracy to defraud the federal government and one count each of bribery.

LaFrance is former director of health care delivery in the U.S. Public Health Service's Philadelphia regional office. He was suspended in late 1988 shortly after his name surfaced in a federal investigation.

Commito, a target of a nationwide federal probe of corruption in the health-care industry tied to organized crime, currently is under indictment on racketeering, conspiracy and fraud charges in five other criminal cases.

Those cases, including one in Baltimore, were consolidated last year in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. Prosecutors in San Francisco have delayed Commito's trial while they appeal a federal judge's decision to throw out wiretap evidence.

Co-defendant Edmond P. LaFrance, 44, of Bethlehem, N.H., pleaded guilty here in January to offering his brother, John, a bribe on Commito's behalf and pleaded guilty in Boston to 30 money-laundering, false-statement and financial-structuring charges.

According to evidence in the Baltimore trial, John LaFrance agreed to accept bribes from Commito, Edmond LaFrance and Alan Cohn, United Healthcare's former vice president, in return for using his official position to influence the award of a lucrative federal grant that United Healthcare sought to provide primary health-care services in 330 neighborhoods in the District of Columbia.

United Healthcare is the parent company of United Optical Co. and several other health service companies oriented to labor unions and government workers.

United Healthcare agreed to pay a $150,000 civil fine as part of a fraud injunction and agreed to drop its VIP optical program, which was a focus of Cohn's criminal indictment. In return, prosecutors dropped criminal charges against the company.

Commito and John LaFrance are to be sentenced Jan. 22, 1991.

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