Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, March 14, 2013
Houston-Area Doctor Sentenced to 63 Months in Prison for Role in $17.3 Million Medicare Fraud Scheme
A Texas doctor was sentenced today to serve 63 months in prison for conspiring to commit health care fraud by falsifying plans of care for Medicare beneficiaries, including patients whom he did not treat, as part of a $17.3 million Medicare fraud scheme.
Today’s sentence was announced by Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson of the Southern District of Texas; Special Agent in Charge Stephen L. Morris of the FBI’s Houston Field Office; Special Agent in Charge Mike Fields of the Dallas Regional Office of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG), Office of Investigations; and the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.
Ben Harris Echols, 63, of Houston, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Sim Lake of the Southern District of Texas. In addition to his prison term, Echols was sentenced to serve three years of supervised release and ordered to pay $2,918,830 in restitution.
After a four-day trial, a jury convicted Echols on Dec. 13, 2012, of one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and six counts of false statements relating to health care matters.
According to evidence presented at trial, Echols was a physician practicing in the Houston area. Evidence showed that Echols signed plans of care for Medicare beneficiaries so that fraudulent claims could be billed by home health care companies Family Healthcare Group Inc. and Houston Compassionate Care. Echols signed plans of care for Medicare beneficiaries who were not under his care and about whose conditions he had no knowledge. In many instances, Echols signed plans of care even though other doctors were listed as the attending physician on the documents.
Evidence presented at trial showed that Family Healthcare Group Inc. and Houston Compassionate Care fraudulently billed Medicare for home health services and were paid approximately $17.3 million by Medicare, including $5.5 million for beneficiaries for whom Echols signed a plan of care.
The case was prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Alexander H. Berlin, Abigail B. Taylor and Assistant Chief Joseph S. Beemsterboer of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, with assistance from Criminal Division Trial Attorneys Kyle Maurer and Alison Anderson. The case was investigated by the FBI, HHS-OIG, and the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.
The case was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, supervised by the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas. Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, now operating in nine cities across the country, has charged more than 1,480 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $4.8 billion. In addition, HHS’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with HHS-OIG, is taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.