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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Indictments Charged Diversion Of Hundered Of Thousands Of Oxycodone Tables

Doctor’s Receptionist Is Alleged Key Player in Pill Scheme

The Eastern District of Pennsylvania, like the rest of the nation, has been greatly
impacted by the prescription drug abuse epidemic. Local clinics have stated that drug addiction
in both Philadelphia and New Jersey is extremely severe. Heroin and opiate-based prescription
medication – such as oxycodone – are two of the most abused drugs in this area. And just like
street drugs, prescription drug abuse produces the same problems: addiction, crime, and broken

Today, federal agents arrested 27 people involved in a prescription drug conspiracy that
illegally distributed more than 380,000 Oxycodone pills into communities in the Eastern District
of Pennsylvania. Two indictments, charging four key players, and multiple other charging
documents were unsealed today. Charged in one indictment are Leon Little, 33, of Cherry Hill,
NJ, the leader of the “Little Drug Operation” (LDO), Heather Herzstein, 28, of Folcroft, PA, who
worked in a doctor’s office, and Colise Harmon, 34, of Philadelphia. They are charged with
conspiracy to distribute controlled substances. A separate but related indictment charges
Aminah Shabazz, 36, of Cherry Hill, NJ, with money laundering. Based on the average retail
sale price of the oxycodone tablets on the street, the LDO allegedly took in more than 3 million

The charges were announced by First Assistant United States Attorney Louis Lappen,
Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent-in-Charge David G. Dongilli, and IRS
Criminal Investigation Special Agent-in-Charge Akeia Conner. The announcement was made at
a press conference that also included the FBI and Health and Human Services Office of Inspector
General and discussed the larger issue of drug diversion.

According to the indictment, between August 2010 and August 2012, the LDO recruited
and paid individuals to pose as patients in order to acquire prescription drugs, such as oxycodone
and alprazolam (otherwise known as Xanax), from L.B., a licensed physician in Philadelphia.
Many of these “pseudo-patients” were recruited from the Raymond Rosen Projects, a
government-assisted housing development located in north Philadelphia. Little orchestrated the
entire scheme by allegedly paying Herzstein and Harmon to facilitate the coordination of
pseudo-patients. He also allegedly collected and stored the filled prescriptions, packaged the
drugs for re-distribution, and distributed to them to his customers in Philadelphia.
Hertzstein, as the receptionist and sole employee for L.B., allegedly scheduled the
pseudo-patients’ appointments, wrote prescriptions for oxycodone using the doctor’s prescription
pad and without the doctor’s consent, and distributed the forged prescriptions to the LDO. She
also allegedly falsely verified with pharmacies that the forged prescriptions received from LDO
pseudo-patients were legitimate. The pseudo-patients primarily received prescriptions for 10
milligram and 30 milligram tablets of oxycodone in exchange for money. The LDO also paid for
the doctor’s visit and the costs for filling the prescriptions.

Harmon allegedly drove pseudo patients to the doctor and to specific pharmacies in
Philadelphia, PA to have the prescriptions filled. The prescriptions were filled primarily at:
Northeast Pharmacy, 6730 Bustleton Avenue; Pharmacy of America, 1500 E. Erie Avenue; and
Philly Pharmacy, 210 Market Street.

In addition to the conspiracy, Little, Herzstein and Harmon are charged with distribution
of oxycodone, acquiring a controlled substance by fraud, and aiding and abetting.
According to the separate indictment, Aminah Shabazz took LDO drug proceeds and
provided $26,970 in cash to a third party who deposited the cash into the third party’s bank
account in Ridley, PA. The third party then received a certified check made out to Lemin
Consulting, LLC, a business operated by Shabazz and Little, for $27,000. Shabazz then
allegedly deposited the certified check into the bank account for Lemin Consulting, LLC in
Philadelphia, PA in an attempt to conceal the proceeds of unlawful activity.
If convicted of all charges, the defendants face the following possible prison terms under
advisory sentencing guideline ranges: Little, life; Harmon, life; Herzstein, life; Shabazz, 33
months to 41 months. The defendants also face possible fines and terms of supervised release.
The indictment is also seeking forfeiture.

The case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal
Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation Health
Care Fraud Task Force, Philadelphia Police Department, and North Coventry Police
Department, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Tomika N.

“Prescription drug abuse has become an epidemic in our society, and with the
increased demand for these drugs has come the criminal activity that naturally follows –
including illegal drug distribution and violence,” said First Assistant United States
Attorney Louis Lappen. “The individuals charged today with drug trafficking face
lengthy prison terms like those imposed on distributors of street level drugs such as
heroin and cocaine. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to bring
illegal drug traffickers to justice and stem the tide of prescription drug abuse in our

“The defendants charged today are drug dealers just like street dealers pushing
heroin and cocaine,” said DEA Special Agent-in-Charge Dongilli. “Each is driven by
greed and intent on making as much money as possible at any expense and with a total
disregard of others. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will continue to
aggressively investigate anyone engaged in obtaining or selling prescription controlled
substances outside of a legitimate doctor-patient or pharmacist relationship. There is a
dangerous misunderstanding about prescription drugs. In Pennsylvania more people die
from prescription drug overdoses than heroin or cocaine.”

“The laundering of illegal drug profits is as important and essential to drug
traffickers as the very distribution of their illegal drugs,” said IRS Special Agent-in-
Charge Conner. “Without these ill-gotten gains, the traffickers could not finance their
organizations. The role of IRS Criminal Investigation in narcotics investigations is to
follow the money so we can financially disrupt and dismantle major drug trafficking
organizations. IRS Criminal Investigation is proud to provide its financial expertise as we
work alongside our law enforcement partners to bring criminals to justice.”
“Drug diversion is a costly problem in this country – in both dollars, and lives,”
said FBI Special Agent in Charge Edward J. Hanko. “The FBI is fully committed to
investigating this fast-growing category of health care fraud.”

“Aside from the human casualties resulting from prescription drug diversion, the
millions of dollars stolen from insurance programs is eroding trust in our health care
system,” said Special Agent-in-Charge DiGiulio. “Our agents, working with federal and
local law enforcement, are finding a huge wave of illegal billing, identity theft, fraud in
the Medicare drug program, Medicaid, and other federal health insurance programs.”
Prescription drug abuse, despite popular misconceptions, has become more wide-spread,
more destructive, and more dangerous than even street-level drug abuse. Nearly seven million
Americans are hooked on prescription drugs, more than are addicted to cocaine, heroin,
hallucinogens, ecstasy, and inhalants combined. The web of prescription drug abuse entangles
the poor and the rich, the old and the young, and does not discriminate based on race. Abuse of
prescription narcotics has reached epidemic proportions in this country. According to the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), prescription drug abuse is the fastest
growing drug problem in the United States, with the number of prescription drug overdoses
tripling over the last 20 years.

A 2011 report by the CDC indicated that nearly 15,000 people die every year of
overdoses involving prescription painkillers, and 1 in 20 people reported using prescription drugs
for non-medical reasons during the prior year. Drug overdose, including overdose of
prescription drugs, is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, recently
surpassing automobile accidents. Nearly three out of four drug overdoses are caused by
prescription painkillers, which include oxycodone. For every overdose death caused by
prescription painkillers, there are 32 emergency room visits due to the misuse or abuse of
prescription drugs. In 2011, oxycodone products were the prescription painkiller most
commonly involved in emergency room visits.

There are more overdose deaths caused by prescription drugs than by heroin and cocaine
combined. Prescription narcotics are dealt hand-to-hand, just like baggies of heroin or vials of
crack. According to the CDC, 76% of non-medical prescription drug users acquired drugs that
had been prescribed to someone else.

View: Defendant Chart.pdf | Little et. al., Indictment.pdf | Shabazz Indictment.pdf

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Updated December 15, 2014