Sting nets 10 local healthcare professionals

February 17, 2011 3:17:16 PM PST
More than 100 doctors, nurses and physical therapists in nine cities, including here in Houston, are being accused of trying to cheat Medicare out of hundreds of millions of dollars. Some of those indicted have still not been taken into custody. Ten Houston defendants are part of this nationwide takedown. One of them is a gastroenterologist, Dr. Ben Echols. He's accused of bilking Medicare for more than $5 million dollars.

Dr. Echols runs an office in a building off the 610 South Loop West. It's called the Onyx Medical Clinic and Houston Center for Digestive Disease. According to a federal indictment, Dr. Echols is accused of defrauding Medicare of $5.2 million. Court documents indicate he accepted and received kickbacks and bribes in exchange for providing false and fraudulent prescriptions to patients.

Federal authorities charged more than 100 doctors, nurses and physical therapists in nine cities with Medicare fraud as part of a bust that netted more suspects than any other in history. So far, 111 people have been arrested, accused of illegally billing medicare for more than $225 million.

"Every action taken by those defrauding the system.. effects the legitimate users ..all those people who were denied access. .raises the cost for everyone in the community," said

The local suspects arrested include a chiropractor and owners/operators of durable medical equipment providers across the Houston area.

Arrested those arrested in the Houston area are:

  • Justina Okehie, 55,
  • Dr. Ben Echols, 61
  • Ekpedeme obot, 34
  • Sharon Veal, 47
  • Akinsunbo Akinbile, 43
  • Simone Ball, 24
  • Phillip Ware, 30
  • Melloneen Davis, 52

It's all part of a coordinated, nationwide sweep.

In Detroit, Michigan 21 people were indicted, including a podiatrist who is accused of billing Medicare about $700,000 for a procedure which authorities say was little more than toenail clipping.

In Brooklyn, New York, a proctologist is accused of billing $6.5 million for hemorrhoid removals, most of which he never performed. Authorities say he also claimed to perform the operation ten times on one patient.

In Miami, two doctors and several nurses were charged with swindling $25 million in fake prescriptions for services for homebound patients which were never provided.