WASHINGTON – A federal jury in Houston today convicted Ben Harris Echols, 63, of Houston, for conspiring to commit healthcare fraud by falsifying plans of care for Medicare beneficiaries, including patients whom he did not treat. After a four day trial, the jury convicted Echols of one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and six counts of false statements relating to health care matters.
Today's verdict was announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer 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 HHS’s Office of Inspector General, Office of Investigations; and the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.
According to evidence presented at trial, Echols was a physician practicing in the Houston area. The evidence showed that Echols signed plans of care for Medicare beneficiaries so that fraudulent claims could be billed by Family Healthcare Group Inc. and Houston Compassionate Care. Echols would sign plans of care for Medicare beneficiaries who were not under his care and about whose conditions he had no knowledge. In many instances, the evidence showed, Echols would sign 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.
At trial, doctors in whose names claims were submitted to Medicare testified that they were treating the patients on plans of care signed by Echols, and that the patients did not need the care that had been billed to Medicare based on the plans. Two Medicare beneficiaries for whom Echols signed plans of care testified at trial that they had never seen Echols, that they had different primary care physicians, and they did not want or need home health care.
The conspiracy count carries a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine; each of the false statements counts carries a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is scheduled for March 14, 2013.
The case was tried by Trial Attorneys Alexander H. Berlin, Abigail B. Taylor and Senior Trial Attorney Joseph S. Beemsterboer, with assistance from Trial Attorneys Kyle Maurer and Alison Anderson of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.
The case was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, supervised by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas and the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.
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.
To learn more about the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), go to: www.stopmedicarefraud.gov