Investigation Reports. Oxycodone was a money-making scheme for these enterprises operating as pain management clinics or medical centers. Oxycodone is a highly addictive opioid used to treat severe and chronic pain conditions.
Many of these investigations stem from business operations of what was, in essence, a ‘pill mill’ rather than a pain clinic or medical practice focused on pain management. They reaped millions of dollars in personal profits by operating destructive opioid pill mills in multiple states.
Every year, millions of Americans abuse oxycodone, and the misuse of prescription painkillers like oxycodone leads to hundreds of thousands of annual emergency room visits. More than 16,000 Americans died from prescription opioid overdoses in 2020. Oxycodone prescriptions have enormous cash value to drug dealers. For example, one oxycodone 30 mg tablet could be sold by dealers on the street for between $20 and $30 in New York City.
Federal and State Agencies Identify, Disrupt, and Dismantle Rogue Operations
According to the investigation, in January 2023, Jessica Martinis, 38, raised red flags when she tried to fill a handwritten prescription for oxycodone issued by Francis Martinis, 55, a Urologist, at a Pharmacy in Kings Park. The prescription was unusual as most prescriptions were transmitted electronically from a doctor directly to a pharmacy. Furthermore, Jessica Martinis was not the patient listed on the prescription. The pharmacist ultimately refused to fill the prescription and called the Suffolk County Police Department.
Following this incident, members of the Suffolk County Police Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration, with assistance from Homeland Security, launched an investigation into the doctor’s most recent history of issuing prescriptions.
The investigation revealed that Francis Martinis had allegedly electronically transmitted numerous prescriptions for oxycodone to CVS Pharmacies within Suffolk County. In addition, the patients named on the prescriptions turned out to be former cast members on the Bravo television series “Below Deck,” none of whom were domiciled locally. The couple had previously appeared on the reality show series.
Once transmitted to the pharmacies, Jessica Martinis allegedly picked up and paid for the prescriptions with cash. The investigation further revealed that the prescriptions were never intended for or received by the patients listed on the prescriptions.
If you are aware of controlled substance violations in your community, you can submit your anonymous tip through the DEA online Tip Line and report the doctors or facility.
FAR ROCKAWAY, QUEENS, NEW YORK. Daniel Russo, of Cedarhurst, New York, owned and operated Russo’s Pharmacy. Between March 2011 and June 2014, Russo conspired with others, including medical professionals and employees, to fill fraudulent prescriptions for oxycodone and dispense thousands of oxycodone pills in return for hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash.
“From pharmacist to pill pusher, Daniel Russo betrayed his years of medical training to pocket dirty money in return for illegally selling enormous amounts of oxycodone, which was invariably later sold on the streets,” stated United States Attorney Peace.
Throughout the conspiracy, Russo’s co-conspirators delivered hundreds of fraudulent oxycodone prescriptions to Russo’s Pharmacy. They would then retrieve the filled prescriptions—written out in various patients’ names—so that they could be dispensed elsewhere. Oxycodone illegally distributed by Russo led to at least one non-fatal overdose. Russo accepted payment mostly in cash for the prescriptions.
Russo then hid the proceeds from the scheme and filed false corporate income tax returns for his pharmacy from 2013 through 2016, omitting the illegal proceeds. Russo also filed false individual income tax returns for 2012 through 2016. In total, Russo failed to report over $1 million in earnings, much of it generated from his oxycodone distribution scheme. As a result, Russo fraudulently underreported his tax obligations on those earnings by over $400,000.
On January 23, 2020, Russo was arraigned before the Honorable Cheryl L. Pollak, Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge, who set a bond of $1.5 million secured by the marital home and other conditions, including that Russo surrender his DEA registration solely as to Schedule II and II N controlled substances.
On January 11, 2021, the Government moved to revoke Daniel Russo’s bond and requested a permanent order of detention. The Government claimed that, as of July 2020, Russo’s Pharmacy obtained a second DEA registration in the name of DHBP Corp. d/b/a Russo’s Pharmacy for Schedule II and II N controlled substances. The Government further contended that, since September 2020, the new registrations had been used to obtain thousands of Schedule II controlled substances for the pharmacy to dispense. The Government asserted that Russo still owned the pharmacy and continued to act as a pharmacist there.
Russo countered that he had not violated his bond condition because he sold the pharmacy to David Jarcaig’s company, DHBP Corp., on May 6, 2020. Jarcaig obtained the new DEA registration for Schedule II and II N controlled substances in July 2020, and it was Jarcaig, not Russo, who acquired those substances in September 2020.
Russo submitted evidence confirming that he sold his pharmacy to Jarcaig’s company DHBP Corp., on May 6, 2020. Based on the evidence Russo provided of the sale, the Government conceded that Russo sold the pharmacy and was no longer employed there. The new owner obtained the DEA registrations for Schedule II and II N controlled substances.
Nevertheless, the Government maintained that Russo violated his bond condition because he “attempted to circumvent the condition by transferring ownership of the pharmacy to another individual who then obtained the two DEA registrations that the defendant was not permitted to have.”
As part of the sale, Russo executed power of attorney forms on May 6, 2020, granting Jarcaig and DHBP Corp. authority to obtain Schedule II substances in Russo’s stead, even though Russo did not have DEA registration for those substances.
Russo’s defense attorney argued that the Government presented insufficient evidence that he violated his bond condition.
The Government relied primarily on the inconclusive observations of a law enforcement officer who visited the pharmacy on January 7, 2021. The officer observed Russo make what “appeared” to be a curbside delivery of prescription medicine to a customer, although the Government conceded that it could not prove the package contained Schedule II controlled substances. Indeed, the Government cannot state with any certainty what the package contained.
On January 8, 2021, a law enforcement agent photographed Russo standing behind the pharmacy counter. The agent claimed that Russo “appeared busy working in the pharmacy.” Russo’s defense attorney argued that none of this was proof positive that he was involved in the sale of II and II N controlled substances. “The Government appears to interpret the conditions of the defendant’s bond broadly as prohibiting him from working in the pharmacy or any pharmacy at all. However, a careful review of the transcript of the bond hearing reveals that such is not the case.”
This case is the latest in a series of federal prosecutions by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York as part of the Prescription Drug Initiative.
DEA Special Agent in Charge Frank Tarentino said, “Through today’s sentencing and prior plea, it is apparent that Daniel Russo will spend the next five years contemplating his ill-fated decision to use his business to illegally distribute prescription medication while enabling opioid addiction throughout New York. The investigation and prosecution meticulously brought to justice Russo’s tax fraud and his role in a major drug trafficking conspiracy.”
“Russo distributed highly addictive drugs to the community he served, completely disregarding his sworn code of ethics as a pharmacist. And while using his position to commit criminal acts, he then failed to report and pay taxes on the proceeds of his illicit sales. It is with strong law enforcement partnerships that we were able to ensure Russo is now facing justice for his actions,” stated IRS-CI Special Agent-in-Charge Fattorusso.
BRONX, NEW YORK. A two-year investigation into a Bronx drug mill led to the discovery of 26,000 counterfeit, fentanyl-laced oxycodone pills in an apartment building basement, prosecutors announced.
The investigation centered on three members of the same family who were allegedly manufacturing counterfeit oxycodone pills that contained fentanyl. All three—which included brothers Edwin and Elvis Cabrera, as well as their sister Jennifer Duran—faced charges such as the criminal sale of a controlled substance as well as possession. All three resided in Manhattan.
Many of the pills they manufactured were trafficked as oxycodone–but were counterfeit and contained fentanyl, according to authorities.
MANHATTAN, NEW YORK CITY. Dr. Howard Adelglass, 67, was found guilty of his participation in a conspiracy to prescribe oxycodone illegally. According to the allegations contained in the indictment, the evidence offered at trial, and matters included in public filings:
Dr. Howard Adelglass was a licensed physician. Together with Marcello Sansone, the defendant operated a pain-management clinic located in Midtown Manhattan. The Clinic serviced purported patients seeking oxycodone and other pain-relief medications commonly diverted for illicit purposes. In exchange for cash payments, and in some instances for cocaine, Dr. Adelglass wrote thousands of prescriptions for large quantities of oxycodone, and many he wrote to individuals whom he knew did not need the pills for a legitimate medical purpose. When they occurred, his examinations were perfunctory. Dr. Adelglass’s purported patients included individuals addicted to opioids and, in some cases, who sold oxycodone on the street. Even when faced with clear evidence of his purported patients’ drug abuse and diversion, Dr. Adelglass continued to prescribe large quantities of oxycodone to them.
Initially, Dr. Adelglass staffed the Clinic with inexperienced young women, some of whom he addicted to oxycodone. In approximately October 2018, after serving as a primary source of patient referrals, Sansone took over as the Clinic’s Office Manager. In that role, Sansone helped to control access to Dr. Adelglass and the lucrative prescriptions he wrote for medically unnecessary oxycodone. With particularly vulnerable patients, the defendants solicited and, in some instances, received sex acts in exchange for oxycodone prescriptions. Sansone pled guilty to conspiracy to illegally distribute oxycodone. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York City Police Department.
BROOKLYN, NEW YORK – In federal court in Brooklyn, a 10-count indictment was unsealed charging Dr. Somsri Ratanaprasatporn, her office manager Leticia Smith, Bassam Amin, Omar Elsayed, and Yousef Ennab, who were Pharmacists, Michael Kent, Anthony Mathis, and Raymond Walker with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute oxycodone and related crimes. Smith and Kent were also charged with money laundering in connection with their alleged efforts to hide the proceeds of their illegal oxycodone distribution operation.
As set forth in the indictment and publicly filed documents, between December 2018 and October 2022, the defendants operated a drug distribution ring out of a medical practice on Linden Boulevard in East New York, Brooklyn. Together, they unlawfully distributed more than 11,000 prescriptions for oxycodone, amounting to more than 1.2 million oxycodone pills, which carry a street value of at least $24 million.
Dr. Ratanaprasatporn, a Pediatrician and General Practitioner, and Office Manager, Leticia Smith, issued the prescriptions.
Amin, Ennab, and Elsayed filled the prescriptions at pharmacies in Brooklyn and Staten Island, and Kent, Mathis, and Walker oversaw “crews” of sham patients who received medically unnecessary prescriptions.
Together, the defendants made millions of dollars from the scheme. During the execution of a search warrant, members of law enforcement recovered several hundred thousand dollars in U.S. currency from Smith’s residence. Law enforcement also recovered two handguns that Kent was observed tossing from the rear door of his residence.
“This structured drug trafficking ring’s operations started in a doctor’s office and ended with $24 million worth of diverted oxycodone on the streets,” stated DEA Special Agent in Charge Tarentino. “DEA and our law enforcement partners will continue to hold DEA Registrants and other medical professionals to the highest possible standards and also hold them accountable when they knowingly endanger members of the community.”
“Doctors and medical professionals have a professional obligation to do no harm, but, as alleged, the defendants callously supplied more than one million pills to traffickers for distribution, resulting in dangerous opioids flooding the streets of this district,” stated United States Attorney Peace. “Today’s charges demonstrate this Office’s continued commitment to stemming the availability of illegal drugs and holding to account those who contribute to the epic tragedy that is the opioid epidemic.”
“With this multi-million-dollar criminal scheme, it’s alleged the defendants made their profits off the vulnerabilities and addictions of their customers throughout New York City. Law enforcement partnerships like those seen here today have been and continue to be an integral part of stopping the flow of highly addictive narcotics into our communities,” stated IRS-CI Special Agent-in-Charge Fattorusso.
The charges are the result of an ongoing Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) investigation led by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York and the DEA. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt, and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking, weapons trafficking, and money laundering organizations, and those primarily responsible for the nation’s illegal drug supply.
If you are aware of controlled substance violations in your community, you can submit your anonymous tip through the DEA online Tip Line and report the doctors or facility.
Nine individuals were indicted on charges filed by the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor in Manhattan Supreme Court. The charges stem from narcotics-related activity that allegedly occurred in Manhattan, the Bronx, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. The investigation resulted in the seizure of over 26,000 pills containing fentanyl; 2 kilograms of powdered fentanyl; nearly 50,000 pills, weighing about 41 pounds, containing methamphetamine; and 3 kilograms of powdered cocaine. The estimated street value of the drugs seized is approximately $2.5 million.
Former Long Island Doctor Sentenced to 23 Years for Causing the Overdose Deaths of Two Patients and Illegally Distributing Oxycodone (U.S. Attorneys Office, Eastern District of New York, December 2021)
MERRICK, NEW YORK. Dr. Michael Belfiore, 58, of Westbury, NY, a former doctor of osteopathic medicine who primarily operated out of an office in Merrick, illegally distributed oxycodone outside the usual course of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose.
Oxycodone is a powerful and highly addictive drug that is increasingly abused because of its potency when crushed into a powder and ingested. It is a controlled substance that may be dispensed by medical professionals only to patients suffering from significant pain that is documented through medical exams, diagnostic testing—such as x-rays and MRIs—and other objective proof. Although oxycodone is commonly prescribed in five-milligram tablets, the trial evidence showed that Dr. Belfiore wrote thousands of 30-milligram prescriptions for oxycodone in quantities of up to 180 pills per month.
At trial, the evidence established that on February 28, 2013, Dr. Belfiore gave an illegal prescription for 120 30 mg oxycodone pills to 42-year-old Edward Martin. On March 5, Mr. Martin overdosed and died in his bed after snorting the oxycodone obtained from Dr. Belfiore’s prescription.
On April 12, 2013, Dr. Belfiore gave an illegal prescription for 150 30 mg oxycodone pills to 32-year-old John Ubaghs. On April 13, 2013, Mr. Ubaghs was found unresponsive after overdosing on oxycodone prescribed by Dr. Belfiore and was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Between March 2013 and August 2013, Dr. Belfiore intentionally dispensed six prescriptions of oxycodone without a legitimate medical purpose to an undercover detective with the NCPD’s Narcotics Vice Squad. Dr. Belfiore created fake medical charts to justify those prescriptions. During office meetings with the undercover detective, Dr. Belfiore’s “treatment” consisted of a discussion of the defendant’s trip to San Diego and his interest in helicopters, yachts, and cigarette boats.
“During the midst of an opioid epidemic, the defendant chose to use his education and medical training to do harm, and at the expense of two of his patients’ lives,” stated DEA Acting Special Agent-in-Charge Kruskall. “DEA and its law enforcement partners will continue to seek justice for the victims who have been betrayed and have suffered greatly at the hands of those who were trusted with their health and well-being.” “In violation of his oath to do no harm, Dr. Belfiore intentionally distributed highly addictive and potentially lethal opioids in dosages and quantities that resulted in the overdose deaths of two of his patients,” stated United States Attorney Peace. “Today’s sentence sends a strong message that this Office and its law enforcement partners will fight the opioid epidemic and seek serious punishment for medical professionals like Dr. Belfiore who betray their profession and use their prescription pads to further addiction, rather than as a tool to heal. I want to extend my sincere thanks to DEA’s Long Island Tactical Diversion Squad, who tenaciously investigated this case.”
In July 2020, Michael Belfiore was denied a request for a new trial following his May 2018 conviction on 28 federal charges related to his prescribing of opioids.
Dr. George Blatti, 75, a General Practitioner originally licensed to practice medicine in 1976, had no specialized training or accreditation in pain management. For a time, he maintained a makeshift office in a Franklin Square storefront that was formerly a Radio Shack, with a Radio Shack sign and merchandise racks on the walls.
The original indictment alleged that Blatti met customers at his Franklin Square office through 2019, and after he lost access to that space, saw patients in his car, prescribing medications with no examination from the parking lots of the Rockville Centre hotel where he lived and a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts.
The grand jury charged that patients who were addicted to opioids went to Blatti with their requests for controlled medications, and the defendant allegedly prescribed drugs with no medical history review or exam. He billed insurance and accepted cash. In some cases, he allegedly prescribed opioid painkillers at patients’ request to individuals he had never met or spoken to. Blatti used paper prescriptions pursuant to a waiver issued by the New York State Health Commissioner, allowing him to avoid using the state’s secure electronic prescription system, which is generally required, and provides for greater oversight.
“This doctor’s prescription pad was as lethal as any murder weapon,” District Attorney Singas said. “We allege that Dr. Blatti showed depraved indifference to human life, total disregarded the law, his ethical obligations, and the pleas of his patients and their family members when he prescribed massive quantities of dangerous drugs to victims in the throes of addiction, ultimately killing five patients who entrusted him with their care. As we continue to battle the epidemic of opioid abuse that has ravaged our communities, this prosecution sends a strong message to any doctor seeking to profit from vulnerable patients’ addiction: we will hold you accountable to the greatest extent the law allows.”
Dr. Blatti was arraigned on five counts of murder for prescription practices that led to the death of five patients between 2016 and 2018.
The Nassau County Police Department began an investigation into several opioid overdoses, both fatal and non-fatal, in August 2018. That investigation revealed that certain individuals had an inordinate number of prescriptions for opioids written by the same physician, Dr. George Blatti. At that time, NCPD began working jointly with members of the DEA’s Long Island District Office.
According to the superseding indictment, Geraldine Sabatasso began seeing Blatti in 2007 for acute pain following an earlier neck surgery. According to records, Blatti was aware that his patient smoked and suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease dating back to 2008. Beginning in 2010, the defendant allegedly prescribed Sabatasso opioids and continued to prescribe opioids until her death. In February 2016, the victim fell and complained of dizziness and difficulty walking a straight line, and on March 15, 2016, she complained of shortness of breath and feeling weak—clear signs of opioid addiction. Despite presenting these serious symptoms, Blatti prescribed more clonazepam and oxycodone, and tragically, Ms. Sabatasso died seven days later at the age of 50 of acute oxycodone intoxication on March 22, 2016. It is well established that this combination of opioids and benzodiazepines can have potentially fatal consequences for people with decreased breathing capacity.
George Blatti was arraigned before Judge Fran Ricigliano on five counts of murder in the second-degree (an A-I) felony and 11 counts of reckless endangerment in the first-degree (a D felony).
“This is a tragic story of lives lost at the hands of someone entrusted to save lives,” DEA SAC Ray Donovan said. “This defendant’s alleged conduct was unconscionable. Our fight against the opioid epidemic continues, as evident in this case.
STATEN ISLAND, NEW YORK. Dr. Joseph Santiamo, 65, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute oxycodone with no legitimate reason at his medical practice, which focused on internal medicine and geriatric care. The salacious doctor, who has been a licensed physician in the State of New York since 1984, ran his practice from 2012 to 2018, but on the side, he ran a pill mill.
Dr. Santiamo was also a Registered Practitioner with the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which allowed him to dispense and issue prescriptions for certain controlled substances in the usual course of professional practice and for a legitimate medical purpose.
From January 1, 2012 through about May 3, 2018, in the District of New Jersey and elsewhere, defendant JOSEPH SANTIAMO did knowingly and intentionally conspire and agree with others to distribute and dispense a quantity of a mixture and substance containing oxycodone, a Schedule II controlled substance, outside the usual course of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose.
The goal of the conspiracy was for Dr. Santiamo and others to profit from the distribution and dispensing of oxycodone by issuing prescriptions for oxycodone outside the usual course of professional medical practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose.
Dr. Santiamo wrote prescriptions for controlled substances for certain of his patients outside the usual course of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose, including in amounts that far exceeded what was medically necessary and appropriate. In total, Dr. Santiamo wrote unlawful oxycodone prescriptions for certain patients totaling approximately 3,572.98 grams (or 3.572 kilograms).
For example, despite operating a practice ostensibly focused on geriatric care, Dr. Santiamo wrote the following prescriptions for the Santiamo Patients, all of whom were under the age of 65 at the time the prescriptions were written:
- SANTIAMO wrote approximately 57 prescriptions for oxycodone for Patient-I, which included over 9,000 tablets and amounted to approximately 281, 700mg of oxycodone. Based on SANTIAMO’s examination of Patient-I and Patient-l’s medical records, however, there was no medical necessity to treat Patient-I with prescription opioids.
- SANTIAMO wrote approximately 59 prescriptions for oxycodone for Patient-2, which included over 14,000 tablets and amounted to approximately 424,800mg of oxycodone. Based on SANTIAMO’s examination of Patient-2 and Patient-2’s medical records, however, there was no medical necessity to treat Patient-2 with prescription opioids.
- SANTIAMO wrote approximately 60 prescriptions for oxycodone for Patient-3, which included over 14,000 tablets and amounted to approximately 422,100mg of oxycodone. Based on SANTIAMO’s examination of Patient-3 and Patient-S’s medical records, however, there was no medical necessity to treat Patient-3 with prescription opioids.
In addition, Dr. Santiamo solicited sexual favors from younger Santiamo Patients in exchange for unlawful oxycodone prescriptions, which were outside the usual course of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose. In addition, each of these Santiamo Patients was under the age of 40 at the time Dr. Santiamo provided them with unlawful prescriptions and thus would not typically be treated by a geriatric physician such as Santiamo. For example:
- SANTIAMO wrote approximately 51 prescriptions for oxycodone for Patient-4, which included approximately 7,540 tablets and amounted to approximately 225, 750mg of oxycodone.
- Despite evidence that Patient-5 was abusing opioids, SANTIAMO wrote approximately 135 prescriptions for oxycodone for Patient-5, which included approximately over 11,000 tablets and amounted to approximately 316, 930mg of oxycodone.
- SANTIAMO wrote approximately 18 prescriptions for oxycodone for Patient-6, which included approximately 3,060 tablets and amounted to approximately 194,400mg of oxycodone.
- SANTIAMO wrote approximately 48 prescriptions for oxycodone for Patient-7, which included approximately 6,480 tablets and amounted to approximately 194,400mg of oxycodone. In violation of Title 21, United States Code, Section 846.
Dr. Santiamo “knowingly prescribed” dangerous quantities of oxycodone and “solicited sexual favors from certain patients who were struggling with substance abuse” in exchange for medical prescriptions, U.S. Attorney Carpenito wrote in a statement.
“Many of these patients were dealing with pain and addiction, and instead of getting help from their doctor, they were drawn deeper into the cycle of drug abuse,” Carpenito wrote.
BROOKLYN, NEW YORK. Dr. Lazar Feygin, the operator of two medical clinics, pleaded guilty in connection with schemes to sell prescriptions for millions of oxycodone pills illegally. Dr. Feygin and his staff illegally provided patients with prescriptions for oxycodone, an addictive opioid painkiller, for no legitimate medical purpose. Dr. Feygin admitted to directing his employees to provide oxycodone prescriptions to individuals he knew were illegally reselling the pills and to those using illicit drugs.
A small group of employees, including another physician, Dr. Paul McClung, broke off from Feygin’s organization to open a third Brooklyn pill mill, PM Medical, where the criminal schemes were replicated.
Dr. Feygin and his staff were responsible for prescribing over 3.7 million oxycodone pills between early 2012 and early 2017 and received over $16 million in reimbursements from Medicaid/Medicare.
PM Medical practitioners prescribed over 2.6 million pills between 2013 and 2017 and received over $8.6 million in revenue.
Dr. Feygin and Dr. McClung were in the top 10 highest reimbursed providers for all of MetroPlus Health Plan for three years from Jan. 1, 2014 through Dec. 31, 2016.
FLUSHING, NEW YORK. Dr. Ernesto Lopez, 75, was convicted of conspiracy to distribute oxycodone and fentanyl after authorities charged that he wrote more than one million prescriptions for oxycodone between 2015 and 2017. Hundreds of fentanyl sprays were also seized from the doctor’s home, along with about $729,000 in cash, officials said.
Dr. Lopez operated medical clinics in New York, Jackson Heights, and Franklin Square, where Lopez, who purported to specialize in pain management, wrote thousands of prescriptions in exchange for cash payments. In total, Lopez wrote prescriptions for nearly one million oxycodone pills, with a street value of approximately $20 million. Lopez typically charged $200 to $300 in cash for patient visits despite the fact that nearly 80 percent of his patients had health insurance. During many patient visits, Lopez neither performed a meaningful physical examination of patients nor attempted to diagnose them. Instead, a typical patient visit consisted primarily of recording a patient’s vital signs and sometimes involved the brief movement of a patient’s limbs. Dr. Lopez then prescribed large quantities of oxycodone, most frequently 120 30-milligram tablets, and fentanyl patches.
Dr. Lopez also provided loose oxycodone pills, without a prescription, directly to at least one patient on multiple occasions, instructed an employee to fill a prescription for oxycodone pills and then to give the pills to Lopez, and instructed the same employee to crush an oxycodone pill and put the resulting powder into a urine sample, so as to cheat a drug test.
In addition to prescribing oxycodone and fentanyl patches to patients without a legitimate medical need, Dr. Lopez also prescribed to many patients a fentanyl-based spray called Subsys, which was intended to treat breakthrough cancer pain, for which those patients – many of whom did not have cancer – had no legitimate medical need.
Dr. Lopez was convicted of one count of conspiring to distribute oxycodone and fentanyl outside the usual course of professional practice and without legitimate medical need, and eight counts of distributing oxycodone outside the usual course of professional practice and without legitimate medical need. Each count carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
After the verdict was announced, Judge Cote said, “Lives were destroyed and damaged. People have suffered enormously because of what the doctor chose to do for those years.”
STATEN ISLAND, NEW YORK. Nicholas Avicolli, Pharmacist, Charged in Drug Mill (2017)
Avicolli was the owner of Victory Pharmacy, located at 2236 Victory Blvd. in Meiers Corners. Avicolli allegedly conspired with three other defendants to illegally distribute pain medication on the Island, according to a press release from the Justice Department.
The pills allegedly were prescribed to patients by Dr. David Taylor, 74, whose office was listed on Hylan Boulevard in Eltingville. Also named in the indictment were Vito Gallicchio, 48, of Woolley Avenue in Willowbrook, and Daniel Garcia, 57, of Gloria Court in Graniteville.
Vito Gallicchio was accused of sending fake patients to Dr. Taylor to get prescriptions filled, according to a law enforcement source.
Nicholas Avicolli is the fourth Staten Island man to face a federal charge of conspiracy to deliver oxycodone as part of a five-year operation that diverted millions of dollars’ worth of painkillers onto the streets, according to U.S. law enforcement officials.
QUEENS COUNTY, NEW YORK. Dr. Dante A. Cubangbang, Michael Kellerman, John Gargan, a Nurse Practitioner, Loren Piquant, Receptionist
From 2012 to 2018, Dr. Cubangbang and John Gargan, a nurse practitioner, prescribed over 6.3 million oxycodone 30-milligram pills to individuals they knew did not need the oxycodone for any legitimate medical reason. The vast majority of these pills were diverted and sold to others on the street.
The Defendants worked out of a medical clinic in Queens, known as EPOH Medical P.C. Although the defendants tried to make EPOH appear as a legitimate medical clinic, in reality, it was a pill mill that was prescribing medically unnecessary oxycodone 30 mg pills on a massive scale.
EPOH had approximately 600 patients. These patients traveled from all five boroughs of New York City, from other counties in New York, and even from other states to obtain medically unnecessary oxycodone. There were typically large crowds of patients in EPOH’s waiting area, and patients often had to wait hours to be seen for their office visit. The visit lasted a few minutes and involved no physical examinations or questions about pain. Patients were required to pay $300 in cash for this visit, and, in return, they received a prescription for as many as 180 oxycodone 30 mg pills each month. Most of these prescriptions were paid for by Medicare or Medicaid. From just the $300 patient visit fee, EPOH generated approximately $2 million in cash each year.
The vast majority of the patients seen at EPOH had no medical need for the oxycodone 30 mg pills they were prescribed, and those pills were either abused or sold. Testimony at trial established that these purported patients sold their pills for up to $19 per pill to individuals who would then resell them to street-level drug dealers. At approximately $19 per pill, the value of these illegally obtained pills prescribed by CUBANGBANG and GARGAN at EPOH was approximately $120 million.
PIQUANT, who worked as a receptionist at EPOH, personally sold hundreds of oxycodone 30 mg pills each month. PIQUANT obtained most of these pills through prescriptions that GARGAN wrote to PIQUANT, to members of PIQUANT’s family, and PIQUANT’s neighbors. PIQUANT also recruited purported patients for the clinic.
U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said: “These health professionals should have been the first line of defense against opioid abuse, but instead, they were drug dealers operating out of a medical clinic. They hid behind their medical licenses and positions within the clinic to sell addictive, dangerous narcotics. This Office will do everything in its power to bring to justice anyone responsible for fueling the opioid epidemic that has taken so many lives.”
CUBANGBANG, 51, of Queens, and KELLERMAN, 55, of Queens, each pled guilty to one count of narcotics distribution conspiracy, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; one count of health care fraud conspiracy, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison; and one count of money laundering conspiracy, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
GARGAN, 63, of New York, New York, and PIQUANT, 38, of the Bronx, New York, each were convicted at trial of one count of narcotics distribution conspiracy, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. JOHN F. GARGAN and LOREN PIQUANT were convicted after a two-week jury trial for conspiring together and with others to unlawfully distribute oxycodone from a medical clinic.
FLUSHING, NEW YORK. Dr. Lawrence Choy, former operator of a medical clinic, was sentenced to seven years in prison and two years post-release supervision on 34 counts stemming from illegal sales of prescriptions for controlled substances and the deaths of three patients.
A licensed physician since 1981, Dr. Choy specialized in Internal Medicine and Nephrology (the treatment of diseased kidneys) and operated a full-time medical office at 142-20 Franklin Avenue in Flushing. He was arrested in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, where he had fled after abandoning his New York practice.
In pleading guilty on June 18, 2019, Dr. Choy admitted he illegally sold prescriptions for opioids and other controlled substances in lethal dosages and combinations and failed to perform adequate examinations or follow up on signs of substance abuse. This reckless criminal conduct resulted in the deaths of three patients.
Charges of Manslaughter in the Second Degree relate to the deaths of patients Eliot Castillo, 35, and Michael Ries, 30, both of whom fatally overdosed within three days of receiving prescriptions from the physician. Reckless Endangerment charges relate to five additional patients, including one who fatally overdosed.
Eliot Castillo, a father of two, overdosed and died Feb. 23, 2013. He was found on a couch at his mother’s home in Jamaica, Queens. Following an autopsy, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determined the cause of death to be the combined effects of oxycodone (an opioid pain reliever) and alprazolam (a benzodiazepine used to treat anxiety). A bottle of alprazolam found in Castillo’s pocket had been prescribed by Dr. Choy three days earlier. Castillo’s health declined during the 11 months he was treated by Dr. Choy, who frequently provided early prescription refills. Castillo entered a drug treatment program, resulting in a gap in oxycodone prescriptions. However, when Castillo relapsed, Dr. Choy resumed simultaneous prescriptions for oxycodone and alprazolam, the drug combination that caused his death.
Michael Ries fatally overdosed on March 23, 2014, at his family’s home in Hauppauge, Long Island. The cause of death was the combined effects of oxycodone, alprazolam, and carisoprodol (a muscle relaxant), substances known to have a synergistic effect on breathing, increasing the risk of death. Several empty pill bottles at the scene were associated with prescriptions issued by Dr. Choy during the preceding six months. Ries initially saw Dr. Choy for treatment of anxiety and had never before been prescribed an opioid medication. Ultimately, Dr. Choy prescribed Ries the highly dangerous combination of oxycodone, alprazolam, and carisoprodol. Choy increased Ries’ prescriptions even as his condition deteriorated, resulting in a series of accidents. Shortly before Ries’ death, Dr. Choy had issued prescriptions for 24 pills per day, with a total morphine milligram equivalent (MME) of more than triple the maximum amount recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Queens Acting District Attorney John M. Ryan said, “Dispensing opioid drugs like popcorn at a movie theater is partially to blame for the epidemic of deadly overdoses that has gripped this country in the last several years. Dr. Choy’s irresponsible and illegal actions caused the deaths of two of his patients. The prison term ordered by the Court is more than warranted and should serve as a warning to others – whether they be physicians or street dealers – if you distribute deadly drugs, you will be caught, and you will be prosecuted.”
“The gravity of Dr. Choy’s crimes was no doubt the reason why he fled New York in 2017, but justice prevailed with today’s sentencing of seven years in prison,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Ray Donovan. “This sentence is also a reminder of the dangers prescription drugs pose when they are not prescribed for a legitimate reason under legitimate medical supervision. I commend the New York Strike Force and the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor for their diligent work on this investigation.”
New York State Police Superintendent Keith M. Corlett said, “Physicians take an oath to help their patients, not to harm them, and as such, they should be held to a higher standard. Dr. Choy used the trust of his patients to profit financially by illegally selling prescription drugs. He had no regard for his patients or their well-being, and he put them and the community he served at risk. I commend the hard work of the Strike Force and all of our law enforcement partners for bringing this man to justice. The work they do is vital to keeping drugs off our streets and, in turn, helps to prevent the cycle of prescription drug abuse.” “The opioid crisis is a national plague that currently claims the lives of thousands of our citizens every year,” said Peter Fitzhugh, special agent in charge of HSI New York City. “This doctor used a position of trust to recklessly feed the addictions of patients across state lines, resulting in deaths and destroyed lives. This is another great example of various law enforcement agencies working in tandem to arrest an individual causing great harm to the community.”
Authorities say three clinics in Brooklyn operated as pill mills, illegally prescribing $6 million in opioids. In many cases, the clinics allegedly received bribes for the prescriptions.
Medical practitioners were accused of illegally providing prescriptions of oxycodone for no legitimate medical purposes.
Lazar Feygin was allegedly the ring leader of the schemes, living a lavish lifestyle that included extensive real estate holdings, frequent trips overseas, and regular purchases of expensive goods.
Members of the charged conspiracy also allegedly engaged in laundering money to conceal illicit proceeds.
The former assemblyman is Alec Brook-Krasny, who resigned from his seat in July 2015 to become chief operating officer of Quality Labor Services. The company has a medical lab in Sheepshead Bay. He was the first Russian-born member of the state legislature.
MANHATTAN, NEW YORK CITY. Over 6 1/2 years, Dr. Rogelio Lucas, 77, wrote out 23,600 oxycodone prescriptions, with a street value of $77 million, to patients with no medical need for the pills, said the City’s Special Narcotics Prosecutor. Dr. Lucas was charged along with his wife, Lydia, 79. The couple was being held on a total of $1 million in the alleged pill mill operation, CBS2’s Valerie Castro reported.
Lydia Lucas, 79, who served as the Office Manager of the medical practice in the building at 215-17 W. 101st St., at Broadway, was arrested for allegedly taking the cash in return for prescriptions, authorities said. Their arrests followed a long-term, multi-agency investigation.
The couple had a West Side apartment and a home in Scarsdale, where investigators seized $600,000 cash, authorities said.
A man who did not want to be identified and lived in the building where Dr. Lucas had his practice talked with CBS2’s Castro about the allegations.
“I was surprised,” the man said. “I had no idea that he had been arrested, but I’m not shocked. He is a corrupt drug dealer with a medical license.”
“Dr. Lucas is charged with being one of the city’s most prolific illegal prescribers of the black market’s favorite pill—30 mg oxycodone,” the Prosecutor said in a news release. “Instead of healing, doctors who routinely sign orders for unneeded narcotic drugs endanger the health and welfare of the public. Corrupt doctors who exchange prescriptions for cash have stoked the epidemic of addiction gripping our region.”
Investigators believe Dr. Lucas was supplying multiple drug rings with oxycodone, WCBS 880’s Irene Cornell reported. Prosecutors said he routinely wrote prescriptions to drug runners.
Dr. Lucas and his wife were each charged with 37 counts of criminal sale of a prescription for a controlled substance and one count of conspiracy. The indictment charged them in connection with 37 alleged illegal prescriptions, but authorities believe Lucas wrote prescriptions to 45 to 50 people per day.
Prosecutors said the couple also had homes in Hawaii and Florida and were currently building on property in the Philippines – making them a flight risk. Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Bonnie Wittner also ordered them to turn in their passports.
“This doctor allegedly abused his position as a medical professional, profiting from the sale of prescriptions while fueling the supply of a highly addictive painkiller that has led to numerous overdose deaths,” NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said in the news release. “Thanks to the efforts of the investigators involved in this case and our law enforcement partners, this organization will no longer distribute these pills into our communities.”
DEER PARK, NEW YORK. Ingrid Gordon-Patterson, 49, of Patchogue, was convicted of running a multi-million-dollar pill mill in Suffolk County.
According to officials, Gordon-Patterson wrote over 1,200 prescriptions for oxycodone at her medical and physical therapy office in Deer Park. Investigators believe Gordon-Patterson made $1 million in just a year.
Assistant District Attorney Dina Cangero says the people who bought those prescriptions resold about 400,000 pain pills. A total of nine people were indicted in connection with the alleged prescription pill conspiracy.
“That’s over $6 million in oxycodone tablets being dispersed throughout the illegal market,” said DA Cangero.
Gordon-Patterson tearfully addressed the court before sentencing and asked the judge for sympathy, saying she didn’t know her patients would resell the pills and thought they needed it. The judge said she must be in a “state of denial.”
BRONX, NEW YORK. Dr. Kevin Lowe, a 54-year-old doctor with houses upstate and near the north shore of Long Island, was at the center of it all. The DEA and NYPD brought down what’s been described as the largest pill mill in the Northeast, a string of medical clinics called Astramed with storefronts on Southern Boulevard and Westchester Avenue, which sold prescriptions for 5.5 million oxycodone pills with a street value of half a billion dollars.
By accounts, Astramed was, as one DEA agent put it, “an out-of-control place.” Crowds lined up outside the entrance like it was a nightclub, complete with bouncers; double-parked cars with out-of-state plates idled while people from as far away as Florida made purchases.
For years, it seemed everyone on the street knew what was really going on behind the clinic’s door. After the bust, it became clear how complex the operation was—and how difficult it would be to take it down. It didn’t matter how conspicuous the operation seemed outside. The DEA couldn’t just raid the places. Building a case against a doctor means having to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the doctor, as it’s said, “deviated from the generally accepted standards of best professional practices.”
To figure out which side the Astramed doctors were on, the DEA had to get inside the clinic. But Astramed wasn’t letting anyone inside who didn’t already know someone who knew someone. When the DEA sent someone to his office for a prescription, all he got was a referral to another doctor.
Dr. Lowe founded his first clinic in St Albans, Queens, in 1993, when he was fresh out of medical school, taking over the lease of a vacant building from an older physician who was retiring. He opened a second in 1996 in Hempstead and a third in Jamaica, Queens in 1998. The two Bronx locations opened in 2005 and 2007—all called Astramed, with a stated focus on preventive medicine. Dr. Lowe kept a clean image. He didn’t seem to make a habit of prescribing oxycodone himself. Instead, he bankrolled the two Bronx locations but ensured the other locations weren’t crooked.
In the Bronx, he allegedly paid the Astramed doctors $300 for every prescription they wrote. If they saw a patient and didn’t write a prescription, they didn’t get paid. The doctor visits usually lasted just a minute or two, involved no physical examination, and always ended the same way: with a prescription for 180 30-milligram tablets of oxycodone. Once they got the prescriptions, Astramed’s patients would fill them at pharmacies in Upstate New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida, and Georgia. Then, they would hand them over to their crew chiefs, usually in exchange for $500, and they would sell the pills up and down the East Coast. The crew chiefs paid a $1,000 admission fee to get their people into the clinics for appointments.
According to the agents who worked this case, Dr. Lowe avoided the headache of setting up a crime syndicate himself. All he had to do was put the pieces in place for doctors to write legitimate prescriptions. He built it, and they came. Dr. Lowe supervised everything, according to the indictment, with surveillance cameras.
The first physician to be noticed over-prescribing was Dr. Tomasito Virey, who had made it to the Top of the New York State Department of Health’s List of Frequent Prescribers of Oxycodone in 2012. When an NBC reporter asked why he was prescribing so much oxy, the doctor replied, “We have a lot, a lot, a lot of sick patients.” Even back then, neighbors were calling Astramed a pill mill. However, the local NBC report effectively derailed an investigation the DEA had been conducting into the clinic. Dr. Virey stopped prescribing oxycodone as soon as he was seen on TV. That Astramed office closed up shop, putting the Feds back at square one.
Dr. Robert Terdiman had written more than 17,000 oxycodone prescriptions (3 million pills) in 18 months. Those pills could go for $30 each or a total street value of over $90 million.
The DEA heard about Terdiman from a medical group in Valhalla, New York, that he had previously worked with. They complained that after years of nothing, they were suddenly fielding calls from pharmacies for countless prescriptions Terdiman wrote. When agents learned he worked at another Astramed clinic, they did some digging and connected the dots between the two facilities—both were allegedly financed by Dr. Lowe.
The DEA went to the local narcotics cops to build their case further. Together, they formed the New York Tactical Diversion Squad. It took until January 2013 to get agents in to see the doctor. Terdiman didn’t examine these undercover agents or collect any MRIs or X-rays. He only asked some cursory questions about pain, physical therapy, and surgery, ignoring inconsistent responses from them on repeat visits. Dr. Terdiman kept writing out the same prescription over and over again.
Fortunately for the DEA, too many robberies persuaded the clinic to switch from cash to money orders. Eventually, Terdiman must have suspected something was up because he called the DEA directly to ask if he was under investigation. The DEA declined to answer his question.
They then had to parse out whom exactly to prosecute besides the doctor. Ultimately, they busted 25 people, including Terdiman, the crew chiefs, and the man behind it all, Dr. Kevin Lowe. Dr. Terdiman was later found at a motel in Yonkers with a .357 caliber revolver and 47 rounds of ammunition inside a TV stand. Authorities found more than $740,000 in his savings account. At the arraignment, he looked like a wreck. His lawyer said, “He’s in a state of shock.”
Dr. Kevin Lowe pleaded not guilty, posted a $5 million bond, and wore an ankle bracelet in home detention in Melville, Long Island. Dr. Lowe’s attorney, Robert Dapelo, called the case a “travesty,” blaming the whole thing on “rogue doctors.”
PATERSON, NEW JERSEY. Dr. Lisa Ferraro, 65, of Hillsdale, New Jersey, was charged with one count of knowingly and intentionally conspiring and agreeing with others to distribute oxycodone, a Schedule II controlled substance, outside the usual course of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose.
Dr. Ferraro practiced Internal Medicine in Paterson, New Jersey. From January 2020 to Aug. 23, 2023, she participated in a conspiracy to prescribe oxycodone, an opioid pain medication, to individuals who posed as patients but whom Ferraro never physically examined or questioned about symptoms to determine whether there was a legitimate medical need for oxycodone.
Among the patients were two individuals who were incarcerated while Dr. Ferraro was prescribing oxycodone in their names. Dr. Ferraro typically wrote prescriptions for 90 pills of 30mg oxycodone each, which were typically split three ways among Ferraro, a conspirator who recruited the fake patients and the fake patients themselves.
Over the course of the conspiracy, Dr. Ferraro wrote approximately 425 prescriptions for approximately 36,500 30mg oxycodone pills.
James Hazelwood, 44, of Cumming, Georgia, pleaded guilty to engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise for his role in operating a company that illegally distributed millions of pills of prescription painkillers, including hydrocodone and alprazolam, to drug addicts and recreational drug users who had no medical reason for receiving the pills.
Hazelwood operated USMeds, LLC, and later, American Health Alternatives. Hazelwood, through both companies, worked with pharmacists and pharmacies who supplied drugs to the organization, which Hazelwood then distributed to people who contacted him through the companies’ websites or call centers, according to court documents.
Hazelwood controlled most aspects of the drug trafficking organization. He set up and maintained websites, including usmedsovernight.com, verybestmeds.com, and mydoctorconsultonline.com, to solicit customers to buy hydrocodone and other pills without valid prescriptions, according to court documents. James Hazelwood, in 2012, was sentenced to more than eight years in prison and ordered to pay $3.8 million in restitution.
The transactions were nothing more than illegal customer-dictated drug orders that bore the electronic or handwritten signature and DEA registration number of a doctor. Customers, not doctors, selected the type of controlled substance, quantity, and strength to be “prescribed.” Customers paid for their “consultation” and pills upfront via credit card, and medical insurance was not accepted.
Doctors signing the drug orders did not physically examine customers or even meet them face-to-face. Instead, after selecting the drug they wanted, the customer filled out a brief online questionnaire, the customer had a short “telephone consultation” and the prescription was issued. The conspiring pharmacies then shipped the drugs via FedEx to thousands of customers across the country, according to court records.
In addition to soliciting customers via its website, Hazelwood’s organization also advertised on billboards in bathroom stalls at bars and nightclubs, at a music festival in Miami, and internet banner ads, among other means, according to court documents.
Because of the makeup of his customer base, the Hazelwood drug trafficking organization charged its customers a price that was multiple times higher than the retail cost of the drugs it provided. The group generally charged $300 for 90 tablets of hydrocodone plus a $55 “consult” fee, according to court documents. The activity took place between 2005 and 2009, according to court documents.
Dr. Terence Sasaki was convicted on charges of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and conspiracy to launder money. Sasaki, 42, lived in Jersey City, N.J.
Pharmacist Vinesh Darji was sentenced to nearly five years in prison for his conviction of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances. Darji, 43, lived in Tampa, Florida.
Audrey Barbara Rovedo was sentenced to more than six years in prison for convictions of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and conspiracy to launder money. Rovedo, 65, was a manager at Delta Health and lived in Jacksonville, Florida.
“This is one of the more egregious pill mill cases we have ever come across,” Dettelbach said. “Prescription drug abuse is a major problem. Whether it is an Internet-based pill mill or a local dentist handing out prescriptions, we are committed to stopping those who illegally distribute drugs.”
If you are aware of controlled substance violations in your community, you can submit your anonymous tip through the DEA online Tip Line.
According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, an estimated 7,500 pill mills operate in the United States. A pill mill is a type of business that prescribes narcotic medications in more significant numbers than would be prescribed in regular physician offices. State and local investigators came up with the name “pill mills.”
Between 1999 and 2017, an estimated 250,000 Americans died from overdoses involving prescription painkillers, a plague ignited by Purdue Pharma’s aggressive marketing of OxyContin. Families, working class and wealthy, have been torn apart, businesses destroyed, and public officials pushed to the brink. Meanwhile, the drugmaker’s owners, Raymond and Mortimer Sackler, whose names adorn museums worldwide, made enormous fortunes from the commercial success of OxyContin.
In Pain Killer, Barry Meier tells the story of how Purdue turned OxyContin into a billion-dollar blockbuster. Powerful narcotic painkillers, or opioids, were once used as drugs of last resort for pain sufferers. But Purdue launched an unprecedented marketing campaign claiming that the drug’s long-acting formulation made it safer to use than traditional painkillers for many types of pain. That illusion was quickly shattered as drug abusers learned that crushing an Oxy could release its narcotic payload all at once. Even in its prescribed form, Oxy proved fiercely addictive. As OxyContin’s use and abuse grew, Purdue concealed what it knew from regulators, doctors, and patients.
“We face a moment in our country where more than 100,000 of our fellow Americans die each year from drug overdoses,” United States Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh said. “We must do all we can to support those battling addiction disorders and prosecute those who prey on this disease.”
New Yorkers who need help finding substance-use-disorder treatment resources should contact 1-877-8-HOPENY. The HopeLine provides high-quality, responsive information and referral services via phone and text message to callers throughout New York State experiencing substance abuse issues. HOPEline services are free and confidential.
If you know of controlled substance violations in your community, you can submit your anonymous tip through the DEA online Tip Line and report the doctors or facility.
How Federal Agencies Are Dismantling New York Pain Clinics Vast Pain Pill Operations
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