Former Doctor Pleads Guilty To Illegally Prescribing Pain Medication
CONTACT: Barbara Burns
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BUFFALO, N.Y.-U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. announced today that Pravin Mehta, 77, of Amherst, NY, pleaded guilty to conspiring to illegally dispense controlled substances from his medical office by issuing prescriptions other than for a legitimate medical purpose and not in the usual course of professional practice, before Senior U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny. This conviction represents the 14th defendant charged and convicted as part of this investigation, including Office staff and other conspirators.
“This case demonstrates that those who would harm the community through illegal narcotics trafficking consist of far more than street corner drug dealers,” said U.S. Attorney Hochul. “In this case, a medical doctor, in his 70’s, stands convicted of turning his medical practice into a drug trafficking organization, complete with other conspirators and employees. This case – like others before it – also demonstrates that regardless of title or position, this Office will simply not allow anyone to contribute to the current public health crisis involving dangerous opiate substances.”
Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge James J. Hunt stated, “Prescribing medication for no medical purpose opens the door to drug addiction. Nearly 80 percent of people who recently started using heroin had previously used prescription pain relievers illegally. To combat opioid addiction, DEA and our law enforcement partners are committed to identifying and investigating those responsible for diverting pain medication while using resources to educate the public about the perils of opioid abuse.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney John E. Rogowski, who is handling the case, stated that Mehta is a former physician who practiced medicine in the City of Niagara Falls. The defendant surrendered his medical license immediately after being first charged in this case in January 2011.
Mehta wrote prescriptions for narcotic pain medications, such as fentanyl, hydrocodone, oxycodone, and oxymorphone, for individuals without conducting legitimate medical examinations. In 2010, the Government sent four individuals who were part of the investigation to see the defendant at his office on 10 different occasions. On all but the last visit, Mehta issued prescriptions for controlled substance pain medication at the request of the individuals without conducting a thorough medical exam.
In addition, on four separate occasions between December 2007 and January 2010, prior to leaving the country for multiple weeks, the defendant signed blank prescriptions and directed his office manager, who was not a trained medical provider, to complete the prescription by writing in a patient’s name, type, amount, and dosage of controlled substances whenever a patient came to the office in his absence seeking pain medication. In fact, Mehta’s medical staff did not include any licensed medical professionals, such as other doctors, physician assistants, registered nurses, or licensed practical nurses.
U.S. Attorney Hochul further stated: “Such medications, when prescribed properly, can be very beneficial to a patients. But when they are abused can be dangerous and highly addictive. Let me be clear, a vast majority of physicians faithfully uphold their oath. For those who do not, be warned, we will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.”
The defendant was arrested in January 2011 along with 13 others. All 14 individuals have now been convicted. All but two have been sentenced.
The charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Mehta also forfeited the building that housed his medical practice, 550-552 Main Street in Niagara Falls, and $125,000 in United State currency.
The plea is the result of an investigation by Special Agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge James J. Hunt, New York Field Division, the Niagara Falls Police Department, under the direction of Superintendent Bryan DalPorto, the Niagara County Sheriff's Drug Task Force under the direction of Sheriff James Voutour, the New York State Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, the New York State Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, and the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division, New York Field Division under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Shantelle P. Kitchen.
Sentencing is scheduled for September 9, 2015 at 9:00 a.m. before Judge Skretny.