Insurance Fraud NEWS
Feds bust docs, longshoremen in oxycodone ring in New York
December 18, 2013, Staten Island, NY
These longshoremen worked docks with 30-ton shipping containers, where one false move could easily crush someone.
And some were high on oxycodone at the time, prosecutors allege.
On Wednesday, District Attorney Daniel Donovan announced that investigators busted up a drug conspiracy headed by a dirty doctor and chiropractor that sold some 1.8 million oxycodone pills to longshoremen on Staten Island and in Brooklyn and others over the past four years.
"Some of this equipment is 10 stories high. They pick up boxes that are 45 feet tall, that weigh 60,000 pounds," said John Hennelly, the chief of police for the Waterfront Commission. "Put 60,000 pounds in the wrong place at the wrong time, somebody dies."
The complicated plot involved workers compensation fraud and insurance fraud, with the conspirators enlisting the help of a New Jersey pharmacist to fill the doctor's scripts when pharmacies on the Island rejected them.
The wiretaps used to break up the conspiracy also led prosecutors to an online gambling operation run by a Colombo crime family associate, authorities said.
On Wednesday, Donovan announced the arrest of nine people, including Dr. Mihir Bhatt, 47, the physician allegedly at the top of the conspiracy's food chain; chiropractor Thomas E. Dinardo, 44; Steven John Alcaras, 42, who authorities say coordinated the doctor's dealings with the longshoremen; and Rita Patel, 48, the pharmacist in charge of Shayona Pharmacy in Perth Amboy, N.J.
"My father, as many of you may know, worked as a longshoreman for 40 years on the piers in Tompkinsville, and then after they had closed, worked for many years at Howland Hook. So I grew up knowing the dangers of the job of a longshoreman. I can't imagine how those risks were multiplied when those people showed up to work high on narcotics, and the dangers that they put fellow longshoremen in," Donovan said at a press conference in his St. George office Wednesday morning. "But that's exactly what happened here - longshoremen abusing painkillers, prescribed to them by a pill-pushing doctor and a criminal chiropractor who conspired to rip off millions from insurance companies in a complex insurance scheme."
Investigators have thus far seized roughly $6.1 million of the alleged plotters' assets, as well as 12 pounds of gold from Dr. Bhatt.
Dr. Bhatt would see his patients at the New York City Wellness Center at 4870 Hylan Blvd., which Dinardo owned and operated, and he'd also work out of medical offices at 456 Arlene St. and 3733 Richmond Ave. on Staten Island, Donovan said.
He'd also dispense prescriptions from his home in Edison, N.J., yet tell insurance companies he was prescribing from one of his medical offices, Donovan said.
"Over a four-year period, Bhatt prescribed nearly 2 million pills, enough to cover seven miles if they were put piece by piece," Donovan said.
Patients were told to come back for chiropractic and medical treatments, and "these exams, if done at all, were done solely to support a long-term insurance billing scheme and the dispensing of oxycodone prescriptions," he said.
The longshoremen indicted in the scheme were assigned to either Brooklyn Cruise Terminal or the New York Container Terminal at Howland Hook, Donovan said.
"Based on Dinardo's concerns about law enforcement, Dinardo advised Dr. Bhatt about which patients, pharmacies and pills might generate unwanted attention," reads the 108-page indictment outlining the alleged drug conspiracy. "Dinardo counseled Dr. Bhatt how to avoid law enforcement attention, and flagged patients who presented a risk of discovery of (the wellness center's) fraudulent activities due to their age, reputation for talking too much, and likelihood of getting caught in illegal pill-related activities."
Dinardo used a lookout to watch out for possible law enforcement interference at the wellness center, Donovan said.
Alcaras, who was assigned to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, arranged prescription pickups, and would tell the doctor and chiropractor which longshoremen were suitable patients, prosecutors said.
"Alcaras also spoke frequently with Dr. Bhatt and Dinardo about his concerns regarding law enforcement discovery of his criminal activities," reads the indictment against the ring.
He'd also coordinate which longshoremen needed bogus medical exams, or, often doctor's notes to prevent them from losing their jobs through "decasualization" because they haven't put in enough days at work, prosecutors said.
"Some of the longshoremen also evaded drug tests at work, using devices like prosthetics, cleansing drinks and synthetic urine to try and pass the test. Believe it - there's such a thing as synthetic urine," Donovan said.
For all their caution, though, investigators still uncovered the scheme, through confidential informants, a camera placed inside an office, and wiretaps over the course of a 20-month probe, Donovan said. The investigation was conducted by the NYPD; the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and Department of Homeland Security; and several state agencies.
The suspects also include Nicholas Tornabene, 28, a longshoreman at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal and his twin brother, Charles, a laborer; Rosario Savastano, 28, and Christopher Galasso, both longshoremen at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal; and Joseph Favuzza, 29, a longshoreman at Howland Hook who was suspended last year because of separate cases.
Favuzza, a reputed Colombo crime family associate, was caught on wiretaps setting up an online gambling operation, Donovan said.
As for Ms. Patel, she lined her pockets by charging patients more than their insurance company co-pays to fill prescriptions, Donovan alleged.
At the height of the conspiracy, Shayona Pharmacy ordered more than 800,000 oxycodone tablets annually in 2010 and 2011, though that number dropped sharply in 2012 and 2013, after New Jersey instituted a prescription monitoring program.
This past August, New York state put its own beefed-up monitoring program into effect, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed its creation into law last year.
Though doctors used to have limited access to data about high-risk patients, under the new law, they're now required to log into a new database -- dubbed I-STOP, or the Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing -- when they prescribe controlled substances.
Pharmacists also have access to the database, which provides patients' up-to-the minute prescription history.
Ms. Patel's involvement in scheme scheme highlights the need for a national database, Donovan said. "We have three bridges that cross to New Jersey," he said.
Dr. Bhatt, Dinardo, of the 3,700 block of Amboy Road in Great Kills, and Alcaras, of the 700 block of Katan Avenue in Eltingville, all face enterprise corruption charges, which carry a maximum 25-year prison sentence if they're convicted at trial.
Dr. Bhatt was arrested Tuesday in New Jersey and is awaiting extradition, while Dinardo and Alcaras were arrested on Staten Island Tuesday and are being held on $90,000 and $77,500 bail respectively.
Ms. Patel, of Matawan, who was arrested in New Jersey and awaits extradition, could face a maximum of 15 years behind bars on the top charge against her, criminal sale of a controlled substance.
Nicholas Tornabene, of Brooklyn, who's accused of selling drugs as well, could face up to 9 years behind bars, and is being held on $25,000 bail. His twin brother and Savastano, also of Brooklyn, and Galasso, of the 400 block of Fanning Street in Castleton Corners, all face up to seven years behind bars for their role in the scheme, and are being held on $15,000 bail.
Favuzza, of Fahy Avenue in Graniteville, faces up to four years in prison on promoting gambling charges. He's being held on $5,000 bail.