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GetSmart About Drugs - A DEA Resource for Parents

News Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

New Jersey Pharmacists Sentenced For Role In
Prescription Drug Diversion Scheme

OCT 27--Boston, MA….Two New Jersey pharmacists were placed on probation Thursday, October 23, 2003, in federal court for their participation in a scheme in which more than $500,000 of prescription drugs and other pharmaceuticals were diverted from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC).

Mark R. Trouville, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in New England; Mark Dragonnetti, Resident Agent in Charge of the Food and Drug Administration's Office of Criminal Investigations; Joseph Moraski, Special Agent in Charge of the Department of Health and Human Service's Office of Inspector General; Christine C. Ferguson, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and United States Attorney Michael J. Sullivan announced that Joseph E. CHEBLI, age 33, of Scotch Plains, New Jersey, and Grace DUBE, age 31, of Warren, New Jersey, were sentenced by U.S. Magistrate Judge Lawrence P. Cohen. CHEBLI was placed on 2 years' probation, fined $250, and ordered to make restitution in the amount of $15,514 to BIDMC. DUBE was placed on probation for one year, fined $500, and ordered to make restitution in the amount of $1,443 to BIDMC. Both CHEBLI and DUBE, who have surrendered their pharmacists' licenses, pleaded guilty in August of this year to criminal Information charging them with purchasing prescription drugs previously purchased by a private hospital.

At the earlier plea hearing, the prosecutor told the Court that, had the case proceeded to trial, the Government's evidence would have proven that DUBE was employed as a co-op pharmacy student at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in or about 1990 through 1993. During her employment, DUBE met Mark Catanzano, who had been employed in various capacities in the pharmacy department of the hospital since 1976. At the time, Catanzano was a pharmacy materials coordinator, and in that capacity, ordered pharmaceuticals to be used by the hospital and directed payment be made for such purchases. DUBE left BIDMC in 1993, returning to her native New Jersey in 1994 to work there as a pharmacist. Occasionally during the course of her employment at BIDMC, and continuing through about May 2002, when DUBE was working as a pharmacist in New Jersey, DUBE purchased insulin, including insulin for which a prescription is required, and occasionally other prescription drugs, from Catanzano for relatives. She paid Catanzano for the drugs, which could be obtained by the hospital at a significant discount, and believed Catanzano was reimbursing BIDMC.

DUBE met CHEBLI, another New Jersey pharmacist who worked in a neighboring town, and they developed a professional relationship. In early 1999, CHEBLI opened his own pharmacy in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. Sometime over the course of their dealings with each other, DUBE told CHEBLI that she had obtained insulin from Catanzano at a low price. In 2001, DUBE contacted Catanzano and told him she had a friend who operated an independent pharmacy and who was willing to get the insulin and if Catanzano would get in trouble with the hospital. Catanzano said he could do it and that there would not be a problem with the hospital. In about August 2001, Catanzano shipped about 30 vials of several different types of insulin to DUBE's residence in New Jersey and she delivered the package to CHEBLI's pharmacy. She paid Catanzano from her own funds and CHELBI reimbursed her. DUBE did this a second time in September 2001. After the second order, CHELBI and Catanzano dealt directly with each other, without DUBE's involvement, for shipments of insulin, and numerous prescription drugs.

Over the course of the next several months, CHEBLI ordered pharmaceuticals on behalf of a friend who owned and operated another New Jersey pharmacy and wholesale business. Catanzano filled the orders and CHEBLI's friend wrote checks to Catanzano in payment, which CHEBLI mailed to Catanzano. Although CHEBLI believed the hospital was being reimbursed, in fact, Catanzano was pocketing the money he received for the drugs he diverted through CHELBI. Most of the pharmaceuticals went to CHEBLI's friend, although CHEBLI did keep some of the drugs, for which his friend charged him. CHEBLI also shared in the profits his friend made from sales of these pharmaceuticals.

Mark A. Catanzano, age 49, of Tewksbury, Massachusetts, was charged in July 2003 in a 44-count indictment with conspiracy, unlicensed wholesale distribution of prescription drugs, sale of prescription drugs which had been purchased by a hospital, fraud against a federally funded organization, engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from unlawful activity, and false statements in connection with the scheme. The indictment alleges that Catanzano received payment of about $415,000, which he used to refinance and pay down the mortgage on his Tewksbury home, from improvements to the home, for a new car, for a timeshare in Aruba and other personal items. The charges against Catanzano are still pending. The indictment further alleges that the loss to BIDMC was about $548,000 because Catanzano often charged CHEBLI less than the price BIDMC paid for the pharmaceuticals.

The case was investigated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Tactical Diversion Squad; the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Office of Criminal Investigations; the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Inspector General; and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health's Division of Food and Drugs.

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