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Combating the Opioid Crisis
Combating the Opioid Crisis
The United States faces an epidemic of overdoses and deaths from prescription and synthetic opioids. The Office is committed to prosecuting those responsible for fueling this crisis. In addition to targeting street-level dealers and their suppliers, the Office has aggressively pursued medical professionals who divert these highly addictive pills, including doctors, pharmacies, and a major drug distributor.
- Charges Against Drug Distribution Company and Its Senior Executives: In April 2019, the Narcotics Unit charged one of the nation’s largest drug distributors, Rochester Drug Cooperative, and two of the company’s senior executives, with distributing drugs that helped fuel the opioid epidemic. This case represents the first time that executives of a pharmaceutical distributor and the distributor itself have been charged with drug trafficking. RDC entered into a Deferred Prosecution Agreement and consent decree under which RDC agreed to accept responsibility for its conduct by making admissions and stipulating to the accuracy of an extensive Statement of Facts, pay a $20 million penalty, reform and enhance its Controlled Substances Act compliance program, and submit to supervision by an independent monitor. William Pietruzewski, RDC’s former chief compliance officer, pleaded guilty to charges of unlawfully distributing oxycodone and fentanyl, and conspiring to defraud DEA. The trial of Laurence F. Doud III, the company’s former CEO, has been scheduled to start in May 2020.
The Office has also been aggressive in prosecuting “dirty doctors” and other medical professionals who have helped to perpetuate the opioid crisis. For example:
- Convictions of Queens Medical Clinic Operator and Staff: In October 2019, the Narcotics Unit convicted four defendants of conspiring to distribute oxycodone from a medical clinic in Queens, EPOH Medical P.C. Two defendants, including the operator of the clinic, Dante A. Cubangbang, pleaded guilty before trial, to while the other two defendants, John F. Gargan and Loren Piquant, were convicted after a two-week jury trial. The evidence at trial showed that EPOH Medical was a pill mill that was prescribing unnecessary oxycodone pills on a massive scale. From 2012 to 2018, Cubanbang, a physician, and Gargan, a nurse practitioner authorized to write prescriptions, together prescribed over 6.3 million oxycodone 30 mg pills to individuals they knew did not need the pills for any legitimate medical reason. All four defendants are awaiting sentencing.
- Staten Island Doctor Convicted at Trial: In December 2018, a the Narcotics Unit convicted David Taylor, a Staten Island doctor who prescribed millions of oxycodone pills to patients whom he knew had no legitimate need for the highly-addictive drug. He is scheduled to be sentenced in January 2020.
- Prosecution of Alleged Participants in Fentanyl-Spray Kickback Scheme: In March 2018, the Complex Frauds & Cybercrime Unit charged five Manhattan based doctors for accepting bribes and kickbacks from Insys, a pharmaceutical company, in exchange for prescribing Subsys, a potent fentanyl-based spray. To date, four of the five doctors have been convicted.
In addition to pursuing medical professionals, the Office has redoubled its enforcement efforts by partnering with the New York City Police Department to establish the Overdose Response Initiative, which treats every overdose as a crime scene and aims to hold drug traffickers responsible for their roles in the opioid crisis. The Narcotics Unit has secured convictions of multiple individuals who distributed drugs that caused overdoses. For example:
- Prosecution of Bronx Heroin Dealer Responsible for Two Overdose Deaths: In December 2018, Frankie Beqiraj received a 25-year prison sentence, following his conviction at trial for selling heroin that resulted in two overdose deaths. The evidence at trial showed that, from July 2016 to January 2017, Beqiraj supplied drugs to the small Bronx community of City Island. Beqiraj employed workers, who were themselves heroin addicts and were supplied drugs by Beqiraj, to deliver narcotics to his customers using prepaid phones supplied by Beqiraj. These workers were paid their salaries in money and heroin. Through his organization, Beqiraj distributed large quantities of heroin, cocaine, oxycodone, and alprazolam. The evidence established that Beqiraj and his workers distributed heroin to two individuals who died from overdoses caused by that heroin. Beqiraj’s appeal from his conviction is pending.
- Prosecution of Staten Island Heroin Dealer Responsible for Overdose Death: In May 2019, the Narcotics Unit convicted Paul Van Manen, a Staten Island drug dealer who sold fentanyl-laced heroin that led to two overdoses, one of which resulted in the death of a 26-year-old man. Van Manen was sentenced to 23-years’ imprisonment.