Former nursing home executive handed 57-month prison sentence

Daniel Benson, the former chief operating officer of American Senior Communities, was sentenced Friday to nearly five years in federal prison for his role in a massive kickback scheme at Indiana’s largest chain of nursing homes.

Judge Tanya Walton Pratt sentenced the 54-year-old Benson to a 57-month sentence after a plea agreement in which he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail, wire and health care fraud; conspiracy to violate the anti-kickback statute; and money laundering.

Benson, of Fishers, was released after the hearing to await instructions regarding when and where he is to report to serve his sentence.

The sentencing comes one week after former ASC CEO James Burkhart was given a 9-1/2-year sentence for leading the fraud scheme.

Investigators said Burkhart and Benson, along with two others, took part in a criminal scheme between January 2009 and September 2015 that netted them $16 million.

Prosecutors say Benson used his position "to play an integral part in the sweeping conspiracy to defraud the victims in this case: the owners of ASC and Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County."

Burkhart and Benson were indicted in 2016 along with associates Steven Ganote and Joshua Burkhart, who is James Burkhart’s brother.

Authorities say the four used shell companies and inflated invoices to enrich themselves. The victims of the fraud were Indianapolis-based ASC, which is owned by the Jackson family of Indianapolis; the Health & Hospital Corporation of Marion County, which hired ASC to operate its nearly 70 nursing homes; and federal health care programs.

The kickbacks covered all sorts of purchased goods and services, from landscaping and nurse call lights to American flags and pharmacy and hospice services.

"It is true that Jim Burkhart was the mastermind behind this case," prosecutors wrote in pre-sentencing documents. "But dismissing Dan Benson as a simple Burkhart acolyte would be all too easy, and would not fairly reflect Benson’s brazen criminal conduct. While Benson was not the driving force behind the full $19 million of fraud loss in this case, and while his use of shell companies to launder money and conceal his activities was limited compared to Burkhart, he played his own unique and extensive part in this conspiracy."

Prosecutors say Benson was able to live the high life thanks to the fraud, which helped provide him a five-acre estate in Fishers, a vacation home on Lake Michigan, an apartment rental in Manhattan and a $50,000 Rolex.

Law enforcement officials said they found it an ironic twist that Benson also "served as ASC's corporate compliance officerthe company’s most senior employee in charge of ensuring that its employees, among other things, complied with federal laws and regulations."

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