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Needham Doctor and Nurse Practitioner Indicted for Drug Distribution Resulting in Deaths

BOSTON, MA. – A former Needham physician and a nurse practitioner who worked with him were charged today in U.S. District Court with illegally distributing controlled substances resulting in deaths.

Steven W. Derr, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for New England and Carmen Ortiz, United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts announced today that Joseph P. Zolot, 61, of Needham and Florida and Lisa M. Pliner, 51, of Bedford, were charged today in an eight-count indictment with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, distribution of controlled substances, and distribution of controlled substances causing deaths.

The indictment alleges that Zolot and Pliner conspired with each other to distribute methadone, oxycodone and fentanyl, all Schedule II Controlled Substances, by prescribing the drugs without a legitimate medical purpose and not in the usual course of professional practice. Zolot and Pliner prescribed these controlled substances in amounts and frequency that were likely to, and did, cause addiction, deteriorated health, overdose and death in some patients. It is further alleged that Zolot and Pliner frequently failed to conduct adequate physical examinations of the individuals in order to diagnose and treat the alleged health concerns of the individuals.

The indictment alleges that Zolot and Pliner frequently issued prescriptions for narcotics to individuals despite indications that such individuals were abusing, misusing, or distributing controlled substances. These indications included: requests by individuals to replace lost or stolen prescriptions; drug screening tests in which the individual tested positive for controlled substances that were not prescribed by either Zolot or Pliner; drug screening tests in which the individual tested negative for the controlled substances prescribed by either Zolot or Pliner, which may have indicated that the individual could be misusing or diverting the prescribed controlled substances or attempting to circumvent the drug screening tests; and reports of prior history of drug addiction or the misuse of drugs.

According to the Indictment, Zolot and Pliner met with approximately 40-50 people a day for meetings that would last only a short time, and that the individuals were billed approximately $300 for their initial visit and approximately $100-$150 for subsequent visits. The indictment further alleges that a number of individuals for whom prescriptions for controlled substances were provided by Zolot and Pliner died from drug overdoses including: Dennis Dillon; Jeffrey Campbell; Thomas Dunphy; James Curley; Christopher Bartoloni; and Scot Poulack.

“DEA investigates a myriad of criminals and criminal organizations, from international drug investigations to doctors illegally prescribing dangerous and addictive drugs, as alleged in this case. We pursue all persons who illegally distribute drugs, regardless of their title,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Steve Derr. “A license to practice medicine is not a license to deal, and that is precisely what is alleged in this indictment. The pain medications allegedly distributed by Zolot and Pliner can easily have disastrous results.”

If convicted, Zolot and Pliner each face up to life imprisonment, and a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment for each of the distribution resulting in death counts, to be followed by not less than five years of supervised release and a fine of up to $4 million. A detention hearing is set for Friday, March 4, 2011.

This investigation was worked with HHS, IRS, USAO, FBI and the Needham Massachusetts Police Department.


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