OH: Physician Sentenced to 25 Years in Prison

Former Mahoning County Physician Sentenced to 25 Years in Prison for Illegally Prescribing Controlled Substances and Causing the Deaths of Two Patients

Martin Escobar, 58, a former Mahoning County physician, was sentenced today to 25 years in prison by U.S. District Judge Donald C. Nugent after he previously pleaded guilty to 54 counts of illegally prescribing controlled substances—including two counts of distributing controlled substances that caused the deaths of two patients and one count of distributing a controlled substance to a person under the age of 21—and 31 counts of health care fraud.

“Mr. Escobar repeatedly distributed dangerous and highly addictive controlled substances to his patients and ignored signs of addiction and other red flags that his actions were causing harm to those who entrusted him with their care, and falsifying justifications for issuing prescriptions he knew should never have been written,” said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle M. Baeppler.  “Due to his behavior, two patients died from overdosing on the drugs he illegally prescribed to them.  Our community is safer with Mr. Escobar now behind bars.”

“Violating a position of trust compounded by willfully neglecting the Hippocratic oath is cruel and cowardly,” said FBI Cleveland Special Agent in Charge, Gregory Nelsen.  “The sentence underscores the FBI’s unwavering commitment to investigating criminal activities and corrupt individuals that prey on innocent persons and endanger countless people.  Whether one individual or a network of criminals, the valuable partnerships the FBI holds with federal, state and local law enforcement continues to protect the public and make our communities safer.”

Escobar’s disregard for the well-being of those under his care caused the death of two vulnerable patients and endangered the health of many others,” said Mario M. Pinto, Special Agent in Charge with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General.  “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to pursue medical professionals who fuel the opioid epidemic and neglect the care of their patients.”

According to court documents, between March 2015 and October 2019, Escobar prescribed controlled substances out of his Lake Milton medical office, including opioids such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, often in combination with benzodiazepines and stimulants, and did so outside the usual course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose.

Escobar used false diagnoses, falsified patient pain intensity scales in medical charts, increased dosages of controlled substances and prescribed painkillers for prolonged periods without evidence of efficacy to support his unlawful prescription practices.  Furthermore, Escobar failed to pursue treatment options other than controlled substances and falsely claimed to have performed extensive physical examinations on his patients.

Escobar also ignored warning signs of patients’ drug addiction and abuse.  This included ignoring the results of his patients’ urine drug screen tests, many of which Escobar ordered and had performed in his own medical office so that he could bill the government for the tests.  These tests suggested that patients were abusing the drugs that Escobar had prescribed, using other controlled substances and selling their prescription drugs on the illegal secondary market.  As a result, Escobar was charged and pleaded guilty to health care fraud in connection with the illegal prescribing and urine drug screen tests.

In addition, in July 2015 and 2016, Escobar unlawfully prescribed opioids and other controlled substances to two patients without a legitimate medical purpose.  Both patients later fatally overdosed from those drugs.  In another instance, in April of 2018, Escobar unlawfully prescribed opioids to an individual under the age of 21 without a medical need.

“This guy thought he could outsmart the system by concealing his drug dealing behind a doctor’s coat – thankfully, our many partners in the investigation followed the paper trail of his prescription pad and stopped his scheme,” said Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost.  “This doctor will do no further harm behind bars, and Ohio’s taxpayers will benefit with less fraud in the healthcare system.”

The case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, the Ohio Attorney General’s Healthcare Fraud Section and the Ohio Board of Pharmacy.  This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Elliot Morrison, Michael L. Collyer, Brendan O’Shea and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan L. Metzler of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

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