NEEDHAM DOCTOR AND NURSE PRACTITIONER INDICTED FOR DRUG DISTRIBUTION RESULTING IN DEATHS
BOSTON, Mass. - 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.
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.
United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said, “The conduct alleged in today’s indictment is incomprehensible. I hope it sends a strong message that the government will aggressively prosecute any medical professional who facilitates the distribution of dangerous and addictive drugs purely for financial gain.”
“Today’s indictment, which resulted from a joint FBI, HHS, DEA, IRS-CID and Needham Police Department investigation, is an example of the perils that may result when medical professionals do not prescribe drugs for legitimate medical purposes. In this instance, Dr. Zolot’s and Nurse Practitioner Pliner’s prescribing patterns allegedly contributed to the death of six people,” said Richard DesLauriers, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI. “The FBI will investigate doctors and others who line their pockets at the expense of the health and well-being of patients. Through our task-force and intelligence-based model, we will continue to use every capability and tool we have at our disposal to ensure patient safety.”
“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 Special Agent in Charge Steve Derr of the DEA. “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.”
“Patient safety is paramount, and HHS-OIG is committed to ensuring that it is not compromised by greed and illegal prescribing, as alleged in this case. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to combat fraud and abuse in the medical profession,” said Susan J. Waddell, Special Agent in Charge of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General.
Chief Thomas J. Leary of the Needham Police Department said, “We are pleased that all of our hard work on this investigation has come to fruition, and that Dr. Zolot and Ms. Pliner now face charges for their alleged crimes. I want to thank all of the local, state and federal partners who assisted us in with this case.” 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.
United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz; Steven W. Derr, Special Agent in Charge of Drug Enforcement Administration - Boston Field Division; Richard DesLauriers, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation - Boston Field Office; Susan Waddell, Special Agent in Charge of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, Office of Investigations; William P. Offord, Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation - Boston Field Office; and Chief Thomas J. Leary of the Needham Police Department made the announcement today.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Crowley and Thomas E. Kanwit of Ortiz’s Major Crimes Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa Asiaf, formerly of the Major Crimes Unit, also assisted with the investigation.
The details contained in the indictment are allegations. The defendants are presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.