Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that ERNESTO LOPEZ, a New York-licensed medical doctor who wrote thousands of medically unnecessary prescriptions for oxycodone and fentanyl over an approximately three-year period, was sentenced today in Manhattan federal court to five years in prison. LOPEZ was previously found guilty, in February 2019, of conspiring to distribute narcotics and distribution of narcotics after a jury trial before United States District Judge Denise L. Cote, who imposed today’s sentence.
U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman stated: “Today’s sentence serves as a message that a doctor who doles out narcotics without regard to his patients’ medical needs and addictions is no more than a drug dealer. Lopez will serve a substantial sentence for his reprehensible conduct, having betrayed the public’s and his patients’ trust for his own financial gain.”
According to the allegations contained in the Complaint, Indictment, Superseding Indictment, evidence presented during the trial, and statements made in Manhattan federal court:
Oxycodone and fentanyl are highly addictive, narcotic opioids that are used to treat severe pain conditions. Oxycodone prescriptions are in high demand and have significant cash value to drug dealers, who sell them on the street for large amounts of money. For example, 30-milligram oxycodone tablets have a current street value of approximately $20 to $30 per pill in New York City, with street prices even higher in other parts of the country. Thus, a single prescription for 120 30-milligram tablets of oxycodone can net an illicit distributor $2,400 in cash or more. Fentanyl patches are also commonly abused and sold for cash on the street by drug dealers. Because it is so potent, fentanyl frequently results in overdoses that can lead to respiratory depression and death.
From approximately 2015 until his arrest in November 2017, LOPEZ operated medical clinics located in New York, New York; Jackson Heights, New York; and Franklin Square, New York, where LOPEZ wrote thousands of prescriptions for large quantities of oxycodone and fentanyl in exchange for cash payments. In total, LOPEZ wrote prescriptions for nearly one million oxycodone pills, with a street value of approximately $20 million. LOPEZ typically charged $200 to $300 in cash for patient visits, despite the fact that nearly 80 percent of his patients maintained health insurance. During many of these visits, LOPEZ performed no meaningful physical examination of patients and did not attempt to diagnose them. LOPEZ prescribed large quantities of oxycodone, most frequently 120 30-milligram tablets, and fentanyl patches, often to patients who demonstrated clear signs of drug addiction and whose test results showed that they were not taking – and therefore were redistributing – the oxycodone he prescribed.
In addition to prescribing medically unnecessary oxycodone and fentanyl patches, LOPEZ also prescribed to many patients a fentanyl-based spray intended to treat breakthrough cancer pain, for which those patients had no legitimate medical need. In connection with those prescriptions, LOPEZ submitted an application to INSYS Therapeutics to join a “speaker’s program,” wherein doctors received payments in exchange for prescribing the fentanyl-based spray to patients.
At the time of LOPEZ’s arrest, agents recovered hundreds of fentanyl sprays and patches from the closet of his residence, along with approximately $729,000 in cash.
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In addition to the prison sentence, LOPEZ, 76, of Flushing, New York, was sentenced to three years of supervised release, was ordered to pay a fine in the amount of $50,000, and was ordered to forfeit $1,400,000.
Mr. Berman praised the outstanding investigative work of the DEA’s New York Tactical Diversion Squad. Mr. Berman also thanked the New York City Police Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, the New York City Department of Investigation, the New York State Office of the Medicaid Inspector General, the New York City Human Resources Administration, the Nassau County Police Department and Asset Forfeiture Unit, the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office, the New York County District Attorney’s Office, and the New York State Department of Financial Services for their work on the investigation.
Parts of this case were conducted under the auspices of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), a partnership between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking, weapons trafficking and money laundering organizations and those primarily responsible for the nation’s illegal drug supply.
This matter is being handled by the Office’s Narcotics Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Nicholas Folly, Elizabeth Hanft, Michael McGinnis, and Daniel Richenthal are in charge of the prosecution.