United States Attorney Loretta E. Lynch and District Attorneys of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Nassau and Suffolk Counties Announce Comprehensive Prescription Drug Initiative
Federal, State and Local Law Enforcement Charge 98, Including 3 Health Care Professionals, with Illegal Distribution of Oxycodone and Other Prescription Painkillers
The United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York and the five District Attorneys whose jurisdictions extend from Staten Island to Suffolk County, New York, together with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, today unveiled a comprehensive joint initiative to combat the growing threat of prescription drug trafficking and abuse. As part of the initiative, the prosecutors’ offices and law enforcement representatives announced the filing of drug trafficking and other federal and state criminal charges against 98 defendants in all five counties, including two doctors and a nurse practitioner,1 the execution of dozens of arrest and search warrants, and a federal civil enforcement action barring a Brooklyn pharmacist from dispensing highly addictive prescription drugs.
The announcement was made at a joint press conference at the Office of United States Attorney Loretta E. Lynch in Brooklyn. Ms. Lynch was joined by Kings County District Attorney Charles J. Hynes; Richmond County District Attorney Daniel M. Donovan, Jr.; Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen M. Rice; Chief Assistant to the Queens County District Attorney John M. Ryan; Chief Assistant to the Suffolk County District Attorney Emily A. Constant; Wilbert L. Plummer, Acting Special Agent-in-Charge, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, New York Field Division; Assistant Chief Joseph J. Reznick, Commanding Officer, Narcotics Division, New York City Police Department; Thomas V. Dale, Commissioner, Nassau County Police Department; and Suffolk County Acting Police Commissioner Edward Webber.
“Faced with the growing threat of prescription drug trafficking and abuse, this Office and our partners have joined forces to coordinate our attack against a menace every bit as dangerous as trafficking in cocaine or other narcotics. The stakes could not be higher, as reflected by the murder of four people last June during a pharmacy robbery in Suffolk County, and the December shooting death of a federal agent who tried to stop a similar robbery in Nassau County,” said United States Attorney Lynch.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recent increases in death rates from unintentional drug overdoses have been driven by an epidemic increase in the abuse of a class of drugs called opioid analgesics – pharmaceuticals that health care professionals may lawfully dispense in certain circumstances, but which have a high potential for abuse that may lead to addiction, violence and the degradation of communities. The problem of prescription drug abuse has been starkly documented by the recently completed work of a special grand jury empaneled by Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas J. Spota, whose findings noted an almost 900 percent increase over 10 years in arrests for the illegal sale of prescription drugs in Suffolk County. In 2011 alone, the grand jury found that prescription drug intoxication accounted for almost half of all DWI arrests.
Ms. Lynch described the Prescription Drug Initiative’s broad and comprehensive approach, involving not only criminal investigation and prosecution at the federal, state and local level, but also the use of civil law enforcement, regulatory action and community outreach. “The prescription drug problem presents a new face and a new challenge for law enforcement, as it involves new actors and permeates all of our communities. Working together, we will use every tool at our disposal to root out this problem wherever it emerges – whether on the street corner or in the doctor’s office, at a high school or in a pharmacy.”
The state and federal criminal enforcement actions announced today focus on two classes of individuals responsible for the illicit trafficking of prescription drugs. The first involves traffickers, who have found profit in stealing, forging or “shopping” for multiple prescriptions for pain killers, which are then filled and re-sold illegally to users. The second group of defendants includes health care practitioners who, in violation of their oaths to do no harm, exceeded their lawful authority to dispense and distribute controlled substances, did so in bad faith, for no legitimate medical purpose, and outside the usual course of accepted medical practices. If convicted of the criminal charges, the defendants face maximum sentences ranging from 7 to 20 years’ imprisonment.
The Prescription Drug Initiative will continue to expand information-sharing among federal and state enforcement agencies to better identify and target suspected traffickers, and ensure greater use of criminal, civil, forfeiture, injunctive and other tools to enhance federal and state law enforcement capabilities in tackling this growing problem.
Federal Criminal Prosecutions and Civil Action
As part of today’s joint conference, Ms. Lynch announced federal criminal charges of illegally distributing prescription drugs against 11 defendants, including three health care professionals. Among the federal criminal cases announced today:
• In United States v. Jacobson, a Great Neck, New York, doctor is charged with conspiracy to distribute oxycodone to individuals he knew were diverting, or re-selling, oxycodone pills to addicts. According to pleadings filed in federal court today, Dr. Jacobson charged these diverters, known in the industry as “doctor-shoppers,” various amounts of money – in cash – for each prescription issued. The doctor-shoppers then re-sold oxycodone to addicts and other users at a profit. Although the defendant surrendered his DEA registration authorizing him to distribute controlled substances such as oxycodone, the complaint alleges that Jacobson attempted to use other health care practitioners to continue to illegally distribute drugs. The defendant is scheduled to be arraigned later today before the Honorable E. Thomas Boyle, United States Magistrate Judge, at the federal courthouse in Central Islip.
• In United States v. Conway, a Baldwin, New York, physician is charged with illegal distribution of oxycodone. According to New York State Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement records, Dr. Conway issued 5,554 oxycodone prescriptions – 782,032 pills – to various individuals between January 2009 and November 2011, who the defendant knew were addicted to drugs and without medical examination. According to the criminal complaint, during the execution of a federal search warrant at his offices on March 1, 2012, Conway voluntarily surrendered his DEA registration authorizing him to prescribe controlled substances. Since then, however, the defendant has continued to issue prescriptions to those who he knew were either addicted to pain killers or were re-selling to others for a profit. Conway is scheduled to be arraigned before Magistrate Judge Boyle later today at the federal courthouse in Central Islip.
• In United States v. Deslouches, a Brentwood, New York, licensed nurse practitioner, is charged with illegal distribution of controlled substances, including oxycodone and oxymorphone. According to New York State Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement records, Deslouches issued 4,349 oxycodone prescriptions – 422,107 pills – to various individuals between August 2009 and October 2011. The criminal complaint alleges that between October 30, 2011 and February 27, 2012, Deslouches distributed prescriptions to approximately 288 individuals, over half of whom have criminal histories and a third of whom have criminal convictions for drug related offenses. During the investigation, the defendant offered an undercover agent posing as an addict the controlled substance oxymorphone as an alternative because of increasing scrutiny into the distribution of oxycodone. Deslouches is scheduled to be arraigned before Magistrate Judge Boyle later today at the federal courthouse in Central Islip.
In addition, Ms. Lynch announced today the filing and settlement of a civil action brought against RXMK Corp., and its president, pharmacist Mark Khasklezon, who own and operate the Westside Pharmacy in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn. In the civil action, the United States alleges that RXMK and Khaskelzon filled 88 forged prescriptions for oxycodone. Under the terms of a consent judgment, RXMK and Khaskelzon have paid a civil penalty of $105,000 and have agreed not to sell oxycodone and most other Schedule II controlled substances for a period of two years. Schedule II controlled substances have a high potential for abuse and, when abused, may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence. In settling this action, RXMK and Khaskelzon did not admit wrongdoing.
Staten Island Prosecutions
A six-month investigation by the Richmond County District Attorney’s Office led to the arrests of 10 defendants on charges that include “doctor shopping” under New York State’s Public Health Law. One Staten Island doctor shopper received a total of 1,798 thirty-milligram oxycodone tablets in one month by fraudulently obtaining nine prescriptions from eight different doctors in Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan, then filling those prescriptions at seven different pharmacies in those boroughs. Another defendant, David Zaritsky, who was a manager of a Staten Island doctor’s office, forged oxycodone prescriptions for friends and associates, including Joyce Silvestri and her daughter Christine Oakes, a phlebotomist. Defendant Oakes also used her job to fraudulently obtain oxycodone prescriptions as a “professional courtesy” from doctors for whom she worked.
“These arrests represent a substantive change in how we are tackling the prescription pill epidemic on Staten Island – by going after the criminals who use doctors like drug dealers,” said Staten Island District Attorney Donovan. “But they are also indicative of how pervasive and corrosive this problem is, and the lengths to which pill addicts will go to fuel their habits and to which pill dealers will go to fill their pockets.”
Kings County District Attorney Hynes today announced the unsealing of a 50-count indictment charging Michael Donovan, Robert Ottofaro, Anthony Donofrio, Mohammed Farraj and Antonio Deangelis with conspiracy, criminal sale of controlled substances and related charges, in violation of the New York Penal Law. According to court documents, the defendants, all 22 or 23 years of age, operated a drug distribution ring centered in the Dyker Heights and Bay Ridge sections of Brooklyn. The highly organized ring sold oxycodone, as well as marijuana and cocaine, to customers who placed orders via telephone. During the course of the six-month investigation by the Brooklyn South Narcotics Squad and coordinated by the DA’s Office Major Narcotics Investigations Bureau, undercover officers were able to complete over 15 separate narcotics purchases from members of the ring.
District Attorney Hynes stated, “The activities of these five defendants are representative of the troubling trends that we are seeing in Brooklyn. Sellers are now making prescription drugs available along with the street drugs that have plagued the city for decades, and are doing so in a convenient, one-stop-shopping format, easily accessed with a quick phone call. What is particularly distasteful about these five young defendants is that they come from means and appear motivated by greed in its purest and most insidious form.”
Queens County District Attorney Richard A. Brown announced that, over the last 12 months, nine individuals have been arrested in Queens. They are charged with a variety of crimes – including possession of forged oxycodone prescriptions and the sale and possession of such controlled substances as oxycodone, methadone and klonopin. In one instance, three individuals are alleged to have been part of a ring that “shopped” forged Bronx Lebanon Hospital prescriptions at various Queens pharmacies. At the time of their arrest, the three defendants were allegedly in possession of 299 oxycodone pills, 14 forged prescriptions (prescribing a total of more than 2,800 oxycodone pills) and nearly $7,000 in cash.
District Attorney Brown said, “Like many communities, Queens County – the most diverse county in the United States – has seen an escalation in the sale and abuse of prescription medications. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prescription painkillers are responsible for killing more Americans than heroin and cocaine combined. It is therefore imperative that law enforcement on all levels of government continue to work together to combat the threat posed by the trafficking and abuse of prescription drugs in our communities and the all too frequent drug-related violence associated with such illicit activity.”
Nassau County Prosecutions
Nassau County District Attorney Rice announced that since the January 2012 creation of the DA’s Pharmaceutical Crimes Unit, 90 new prosecutions have been initiated into prescription drug sales, pharmacy robberies, burglaries, forged prescriptions and possession of opioid pills, with 46 arrests and active prosecutions initiated in Nassau County since the joint initiative began in February. Ms. Rice accepts no plea bargains for pharmaceutical crimes without first debriefing defendants, and this policy has resulted in a surge of investigative leads. As a result of interagency cooperation between the District Attorney’s Office, the Nassau County Police Department and the DEA Task Force, law enforcement collaboration is resulting in a multi-front attack on the epidemic of prescription drug crime in Nassau County.
“The devastation caused by prescription drug abuse impacts every segment of society. Pharmacy robberies, overdose deaths, drugged driving incidents and the illegal dispensation of prescription drugs are all on the rise,” said District Attorney Rice. “Law enforcement must address this problem comprehensively with education programs to prevent abuse, treatment options for addicts, and prosecution of those who contribute to this epidemic. My Pharmaceutical Crimes Unit and the Nassau County Police Department have collaborated to take on prescription drug crimes, with 46 arrests since the sweep began in February. I applaud my colleagues at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Richmond, Kings, Suffolk and Queens Counties, whose efforts have solidified the Eastern District of New York as a national leader in the fight against prescription drug abuse.”
Suffolk County Prosecutions
Suffolk County District Attorney Spota announced the indictments of 20 defendants for multiple charges involving the illegal possession and sale of prescription drugs. Among those were defendant Jose Molina, who was charged with the class A felony of Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the Second Degree and the class B felony of Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the Third Degree for selling oxycodone in the Brentwood area, and Neil Urman, charged with two counts of the class A felony of Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the Second Degree for selling oxymorphone, the narcotic ingredient in the drug called Opana, in the East Islip. Also, this morning, District Attorney Detectives executed a search warrant at the Suffolk County office of a nurse practitioner as part of an on-going investigation of illegally dealing in prescription drugs.
District Attorney Spota said, “The Suffolk Grand Jury report on prescription drugs recommended changes to local, state and federal laws, regulations and policies to combat this epidemic. This collaborative effort is a recognition that law enforcement must also act across traditional boundaries to attack this scourge.”
DEA Acting Special Agent-in-Charge Plummer stated, “Law enforcement at all levels have come together to combat the growing and pervasive problems with diverted prescription drug abuse. It is our goal to enforce the laws against illegal prescription drug diversion and to educate, treat and prevent more people from ‘stealing one from a medicine cabinet’ or ‘trying one from a friend to get high.’ The DEA and our law enforcement partners have observed this growing trend of drug abuse – especially with teens – and we are committed to keeping the safety of our communities our priority.”
“This comprehensive prescription drug initiative dovetails perfectly with our existing three prong approach of enforcement, redirection and prevention as evidenced by the installation of Prescription Drug Disposal Bins in each precinct,” stated Nassau County Police Commissioner Dale. “We have faced some serious issues here in Nassau County with opiate drugs. In order to fight this problem, law enforcement must continue our partnerships. Today’s successful coordinated efforts are a perfect example of what we can achieve working together.”
“Prescription drug abuse is an epidemic that impacts everyone in the community,” stated Suffolk County Police Acting Commissioner Webber. “The Suffolk County Police Department, with our pharmaceutical partners, take this issue very seriously and launched a Pharmacy Safety Initiative several months ago to help decrease pharmacy robberies and illegal drug use and abuse. Just as importantly, we are working with law enforcement agencies to hold those who are illegally distributing prescription painkillers accountable.”
The United States Attorney and District Attorneys thanked the many law enforcement officers and agents who worked on these matters, and extended their grateful appreciation to James C. Cox, New York State Medicaid Inspector General; Tom O’Donnell, Special Agent-in-Charge, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General; Victor W. Lessoff, Acting Special Agent-in-Charge, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, New York; Chauncey Parker, Director, New York/New Jersey HIDTA; and the New York State Department of Health, Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement.
Access the charging documents at the following link: http://www.justice.gov/usao/nye/pr/2012/PDI.html
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