Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, James J. Hunt, the Acting Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Field Division of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”), Thomas O’Donnell, the Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the United States Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (“HHS-OIG”),and William J. Bratton, the Commissioner of the New York City Policy Department (“NYPD”), announced today the unsealing of an Indictment in Manhattan federal court charging LEONARD MARCHETTA, a physician’s assistant, WILLIAM TAGLIAFERRO, and GREGORY ZACCAGNINO with federal drug offenses in connection with an oxycodone distribution ring they operated out of a Staten Island-based medical clinic run by MARCHETTA.
As alleged, MARCHETTA wrote medically unnecessary prescriptions for large quantities of oxycodone in exchange for cash and on a number of occasions, MARCHETTA issued prescriptions in the names of fictitious individuals or individuals whom MARCHETTA had never seen. TAGLIAFERRO and ZACCAGNINO recruited and paid individuals to pose as “patients” in order to obtain medically unnecessary prescriptions of oxycodone from MARCHETTA, according to the Indictment. The prescriptions were then allegedly filled at pharmacies, and TAGLIAFERRO and ZACCAGNINO collected the resulting pills, in part for distribution, as charged in the Indictment.
MARCHETTA, TAGLIAFERRO, and ZACCAGNINO were arrested this morning and will be presented in Manhattan federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald L. Ellis later this afternoon. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “As alleged, Leonard Marchetta exploited his position as a physician’s assistant by doling out thousands of unnecessary prescriptions for oxycodone pills to phony patients, recruited by his co-defendants. Thanks to our law enforcement partners, Marchetta and his team were caught and they will now face justice for their alleged crimes, which come amidst an epidemic of prescription pill abuse now plaguing our area.”
DEA Acting Special Agent-in-Charge James J. Hunt said: “These three arrests are a stepping stone to removing one of the contributing factors of the opiate problem in Staten Island and throughout the United States – those who abuse our health care system and illegally prescribe pain medication which ultimately is sold throughout our streets. Identifying and arresting those who divert prescription medication, community outreach and treatment combined are the ultimate weapons to fight opiate abuse.”
HHS-OIG Special Agent-in-Charge Thomas O’Donnell said: “Today’s arrests reaffirm our commitment to working with our law enforcement partners to protect federally-funded health care programs as well as patients who rely on those programs from the dangers of America’s prescription drug fraud epidemic.”
NYPD Commission William J. Bratton said: “These individuals allegedly operated an illegal pill mill, profiting with a drug that is responsible for numerous overdose deaths and tragedies. But thanks to the investigators and prosecutors involved in this case, this criminal enterprise has been dismantled and the persons responsible for the operation can no longer endanger lives by contributing to the supply of illegal narcotics in our communities.”
According to the allegations contained in the Indictment unsealed today in Manhattan federal court:
Oxycodone is a highly addictive, prescription narcotic-strength opioid used to treat severe and chronic pain conditions. Almost seven million Americans abuse controlled-substance prescription medications, including opioid painkillers, resulting in more deaths from prescription drug overdoses than auto accidents. Oxycodone prescriptions have enormous cash value to street level drug dealers, who can fill the prescriptions at most pharmacies and resell the resulting pills at vastly inflated rates. Indeed, a single prescription for 180 30-milligram oxycodone pills can net the distributor as much as $7,200 in cash.
As a physician’s assistant, MARCHETTA, under the supervision of a physician or surgeon, is able to diagnose and treat illnesses and prescribe medications. At all relevant times, MARCHETTA has been employed by and overseen the day-to-day operations of a Staten Island- based medical clinic (the “Clinic”), which advertises itself to the public as a family medical clinic.
MARCHETTA prescribed oxycodone to “patients” who had no medical need for oxycodone and no legitimate medical record documenting an ailment for which oxycodone would be prescribed. MARCHETTA’s fee for his participation in the scheme was typically approximately $250 in cash for “doctor visits” that usually lasted just a minute or two, involved no actual physical examination, and consistently resulted in the issuance of a prescription for large doses of oxycodone, typically 150 30-milligram tablets. MARCHETTA also received a separate fee of approximately $500 in cash for each medically unnecessary oxycodone prescription he issued. On a number of occasions, MARCHETTA issued prescriptions in the names of fictitious individuals or individuals whom MARCHETTA never saw in exchange for cash.
TAGLIAFERRO and ZACCAGNINO recruited and paid individuals to pose as “patients” in order to receive medically unnecessary prescriptions from MARCHETTA. TAGLIAFERRO and ZACCAGNINO made appointments directly with the Clinic for the “patients” they sent to see MARCHETTA. On a number of occasions, TAGLIAFERRO and ZACCAGNINO obtained prescriptions issued by MARCHETTA in the name of the “patient” without the “patient” setting foot in the Clinic.
After MARCHETTA issued a medically unnecessary oxycodone prescription in the name of the “patient,” TAGLIAFERRO or ZACCAGNINO then took or referred the “patient” to a pharmacy to fill the oxycodone prescription – that is, to obtain the oxycodone tablets – of which TAGLIAFERRO or ZACCAGNINO took possession, in part for distribution. TAGLIAFERRO and ZACCAGNINO paid the “patients,” typically $150 to $200 in cash, for obtaining and handing over the oxycodone tablets that had been prescribed to them by MARCHETTA. At times, ZACCAGNINO paid the “patients,” some of whom were addicted to oxycodone, with oxycodone tablets for their services.
At TAGLIAFERRO’s direction, certain “patients” of MARCHETTA billed Medicaid or private health insurance carriers for filling the medically unnecessary oxycodone prescriptions that MARCHETTA issued.
* * *
MARCHETTA, 47, TAGLIAFERRO, 41, and ZACCAGNINO, 49, all of Staten Island, New York, are each charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute oxycodone, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. TAGLIAFERRO is also charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The maximum statutory sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes, as any sentencing of the defendants would be determined by the judge.
Mr. Bharara thanked the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the New York State Department of Financial Services, and the DEA Tactical Diversion Squad New York (TDS-NY) comprising agents and officers from the DEA, the New York City Police Department, Town of Orangetown Police Department and Westchester County Police Department for their work in the investigation, which he noted is ongoing.
The case is being prosecuted by the Office’s Narcotics Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward A. Imperatore is in charge of the prosecution.
The charges contained in the Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.