By Graham Rayman New York Daily News
NEW YORK CITY — Five doctors and a pharmacist are accused of cynically flooding the city with millions of painkillers, leading to multiple overdoses and several deaths, authorities said Thursday.
Two of the doctors, Dante Cubangbang, 50, and John Gargan, 62, along with three employees, allegedly sold more than 6 million pills out of their Queens pain relief office — the most by far of any doctor’s office in the state. The pills — many of them oxycodone or other opioids — were then sold on the street for about $30 apiece. They reaped $5.7 million in cash profits, which they then shared among themselves, authorities say.
Carl Anderson, a 57-year-old Staten Island doctor, and an associate, Arthur Grande, 53, are accused of selling pills out of an office that opened at 2 a.m., and often attracted crowds that triggered 911 calls for noise. The waiting room grew so crowded that his “patients,” some with fresh needle marks, routinely bribed office staff to put them at the head of the line, according to prosecutors.
Two of Anderson’s own employees died of overdoses, but Anderson kept prescribing the lethal stuff, prosecutors say. In the end, he had written prescriptions for more than 900,000 pills.
Drug dealers from around the Northeast would come to the city to buy from the twisted doctors, authorities say. Some would use “crew chiefs” to recruit people to pretend to be in pain in order to get more prescriptions. Many of the medical visits lasted no more than a few minutes and involved no actual medical inspection.
Medicare and Medicaid paid out millions for the illicit prescriptions.
“These doctors and other health professionals should have been the first line of defense against opioid abuse, but as alleged in today’s charges, instead of caring for their patients, they were drug dealers in white coats,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said. “They hid behind their medical licenses to sell addictive, dangerous narcotics. It’s horrendous. I’m outraged by it.”
Berman noted that 49,068 people died of overdoses in the United States in 2017 — or 134 people a day, leading to a decline in average life expectancy for Americans. The city Department of Health has said more than 1,500 people fatally overdosed just in the city last year.
“Our entire country is suffering through an opioid abuse crisis, and we need to do everything we can to save as many lives as possible,” NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neill said, hailing the arrests.
Anthony Pietropinto, an 80-year-old Manhattan psychiatrist, is accused of writing thousands of unnecessary painkiller prescriptions after hours for $50 to $100 a pop. He would tell patients to avoid filling them at large chain pharmacies to avoid law-enforcement attention, prosecutors say. He often put the cash from these transactions into a wad of money in his socks.
Prosecutors said he kept writing the prescription to people who were visibly high, and that he knew of at least one patient who died of an overdose.
Dr. Nkanga Nkanga, 65, another Staten Island doctor, wrote thousands of needless prescriptions for more than $500,000 worth of pills without even an examination, prosecutors allege.
And Nadem Sayegh, 64, who had offices in the Bronx and Westchester County, allegedly conspired with a second person, writing prescriptions for 50,000 pills to that person using variations of the name and relatives’ names. In exchange, he was given cash, expensive dinners, high-end whisky, cruises and an all-expense paid trip to Puerto Rico, according to authorities.
Sayegh also ordered medical equipment and had it shipped to his office, then resold it or sent it overseas for profit, authorities charge.
Marc Klein, a 47-year-old pharmacist in White Plains, filled prescriptions and falsified reports to state authorities, prosecutors say. In return, he got free meals and at least one all-expenses-paid vacation to Atlantic City. At one point, he referred to himself as a “licensed drug dealer because Oxy pays the bills around here,” according to authorities.
All 10 people suspects were arrested between late Wednesday and early Thursday and charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances. They each face up to 20 years in prison.
Berman declined to discuss the role of manufacturers and distributors in pumping the pills into cities and towns helping to fuel the epidemic. “I can’t go into any ongoing investigations by our office,” he said. “But we take very seriously everyone who is in the distribution chain for these highly addictive drugs.”
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