FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 24, 2011
NEWARK, N.J. – An internal medicine specialist who allegedly wrote illegal prescriptions for oxycodone was arrested this morning, along with a number of other New Jersey residents, on federal charges that they participated in a conspiracy to illegally distribute the medication, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
Dr. Michael F. Durante, 56, of Montclair, is charged in a federal criminal Complaint along with Andre Domando, 46, of Nutley; Lawrence J. Gebo, 62, Tristen M. Ambrosino, 27, and Daniel J. Lally, 28, of Belleville; Matin P. Rinaldi, 63, and Marianna Colucci, 56, of Bloomfield; Michael P. Scherer, 51, of Montclair; Melvin Fernandez, 27, Gregory Gavini, 33, and Brian J. Renkart, 39, of Harrison; and Michael J. Corrao, 22, of Allendale, with one count of conspiracy to distribute oxycodone.
Of the 12 defendants charged, 11 were arrested this morning by members of the DEA’s Tactical Diversion Squad. Domando will be arrested upon his release from a medical facility. The defendants arrested today are expected to appear this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael A. Shipp in Newark federal court.
According to the Complaint unsealed today:
Oxycodone, the active ingredient in brand name pills such as Oxycontin, Roxicodone and Percocet, is a Schedule II controlled substance – meaning that it has a high potential for abuse, a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions, and abuse of the drug may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.
Since at least as early as January 2010, Durante issued prescriptions to co-conspirators – including Domando, Gebo, Rinaldi, Scherer and Colucci – for drugs containing oxycodone, outside the usual course of medical practice and not for any legitimate medical purpose. The prescriptions were filled at various pharmacies located in and around Essex County, N.J., and redistributed by others – including Ambrosino, Lally, Fernandez, Corrao and Gavini. Renkart also supplied oxycodone pills for distribution to co-conspirators.
Durante wrote the prescriptions in exchange for cash payments and items of value, at one time prescribing Domando more than 1,000 pills in a 10-day period. Gebo, a retired Newark police officer, plotted to provide Durante and one of his family members with “gold” Fraternal Order of Police cards, which typically are reserved for the immediate family members of police officers. Durante also provided excessive prescriptions for oxycodone in exchange for cash, including from an undercover DEA agent he believed to be a patient. Durante knew the pills were to be redistributed, and instructed the undercover to bring the prescriptions to different pharmacies to avoid detection.
Durante was recorded discussing the street cost of the medication he was prescribing. For example, he told a co-conspirator that the pills would resell for from $1,000 to $1,200 per bottle, and that – based on the number of prescriptions Durante was providing – the individual should be realizing a $20,000 monthly income.
U.S. Attorney Fishman stated: “Doctors who illegally prescribe are often the first link in a chain of addiction and suffering. Prescription drug abuse is a serious problem in this country, and it is not acceptable when those we look to for healing divert drugs into our neighborhoods for cash and favors.”
John G. McCabe Jr., DEA New Jersey Division Acting Special Agent in Charge, stated. “DEA has a commitment to protect all citizens from the medical professionals that use their position of trust as a disguise in order to further their criminal activity. Working cooperatively with our Tactical Diversion Squad partners, this is another example of DEA making alleged rogue doctors responsible for their irresponsible and illegal actions.”
The count with which the defendants are charged carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited the New Jersey DEA Tactical Diversion Squad with the investigation leading to the charges and arrests. The squad is composed of DEA special agents, diversion investigators and intelligence analysts; FBI and IRS special agents; and local law enforcement officers from the Essex County Sheriff’s Bureau of Narcotics, Newark Police Department, Elizabeth Police Department, Clinton Township Police Department, and Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office. He also thanked the Deputy U.S. Marshals who assisted in the arrests.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony J. Mahajan of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Narcotics / Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force Unit in Newark.
The charge and allegations contained in the Complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.