NEW YORK — Federal agents and the NYPD arrested five doctors, a nurse practitioner, and a pharmacist Wednesday, accusing them of putting millions of highly-addictive Oxycodone pills in the hands of opioid addicts, for financial gain.
Dr. Dante Cubangbang, who ran a pain management clinic on Queens Boulevard since 2012, was singled out for charging patients $300 a visit—and allegedly prescribing more than six million Oxycodone painkillers, along with John Gargan, his nurse practitioner.
“They are the highest prescribers of Oxycodone in the entire state, according to Medicare and Medicaid,” said acting United States Attorney, Geoffrey Berman, about the clinic located at 51-23 Queens Boulevard.
James Hunt, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration, noted each of the doctor’s schemes was independent of each other.
Dr. Carl Anderson of Staten Island only held office hours starting at 2 a.m., according to the federal complaint.
Noisy crowds of patients seeking pills at 3 and 4 a.m. prompted calls to 911 from upset neighbors.
One of the doctors, 80-year-old psychiatrist Anthony Pietropinto, had been tracked down by PIX11’s Mary Murphy last year, after the brother of a Staten Island opioid addict contacted Mary, asking for help.
The brother had found prescriptions to his sister for Oxycodone, Xanax and Adderall that were written by Dr. Pietropinto from a Fifth Avenue address.
The sister was still getting prescriptions from Pietropinto, even after doing a three month stint in rehab.
PIX11 found Pietropinto on the very day the young mom survived a second overdose.
“We have an MRI for her,” the psychiatrist told PIX11 last October, when we approached him entering a medical office on Lafayette Street.
The MRI reference is often used as a defense for prescribing painkillers, with doctors stating it proves the patient had an injury that required a prescription.
The doctor claimed last October he didn’t know the young Staten Island woman had been in rehab, but he admitted writing prescriptions for her.
When the Drug Enforcement Administration saw the PIX11 report last October, Hunt and his agents took notice.
“WPIX’s Mary Murphy, who is here today, ran a story about an overdose of one of Dr. Pietropinto’s patients, which was a catalyst for an investigation,” Hunt noted Thursday, “proving the press helps us in the battle against rogue, opioid suppliers.”
Indictments unsealed in federal court Thursday say the doctors collected millions of dollars while prescribing Oxycodone pills to patients that had no legitimate medical need for the drug. Often, the patients were drug addicts.
The acting U.S. attorney said Cubangbang’s clinic recruited phony patients to fake injuries that would need painkillers. The recruits would then sell the pills to a “crew chief” who sold drugs on the streets.
Dr. Dante A. Cubangbang -- Queens
Dr. Cubangbang is accused of operating a medical clinic in Queens with John F. Gargan, Michael Kellerman and Loren Piquant. According to the allegations in the indictment unsealed Tuesday, Cubangbang, and Piquant, who is a nurse practitioner, prescribed over 6 million oxycodone pills to individuals they knew did not need the medication for any legitimate medical reason.
Cubangang and Gargan allegedly prescribed more than twice as many oxycodone pills that were paid for by Medicare and Medicaid than the next highest prescriber in New York. They are accused of doling out these prescriptions during office visits that lasted no more than a few minutes and involved little to no physical examination.
Kellerman and Piquant, who worked in the clinic and recruited patients, allegedly collected more than $5 million in all-cash office visit fees, which they laundered and divided amongst themselves.
Dr. Carl Anderson -- Staten Island
Carl Anderson, a Staten Island physician, allegedly prescribed nearly a million oxycodone pills to patients he knew had no legitimate medical need for the medication, including Grande, who sold the pills on the streets of New York. Anderson often saw his patients, some of whom displayed visible signs of drug addiction, without appointments and with little notice, in the middle of the night, and required that they pay hundreds of dollars in cash for each prescription. Neighbors often called 911 for noisy crowds of pill-seeking patients often gathered outside of Anderson's office and in his waiting room. Even after some of Anderson's patients died of drug overdoses, he did not alter his prescribing practices.
Dr. Anthony Pietropinto -- Manhattan
Anthony Pietropinto, a psychiatrist residing in Manhattan, allegedly wrote thousands of medically unnecessary oxycodone prescriptions in exchange for $50 to $100 in cash per visit. Pietropinto wrote these prescriptions to drug-addicted individuals, including one patient who overdosed on drugs, and who had previously been prescribed by Pietropinto both oxycodone and naloxone, a medication used to block the effects of opioid overdoses, because he was aware of, but disregarded, that patient’s addiction issues. Pietropinto saw these patients in a rented office space after hours, and instructed his patients to not fill prescriptions at large chain pharmacies because pharmacists at those pharmacies would call and question him about why he wrote prescriptions for large amounts of oxycodone.
Dr. Nkanga Nkanga -- Staten Island
Nkanga Nkanga, a Staten Island physician, is accused of thousands of oxycodone prescriptions for patients, some of whom displayed visible signs of drug addiction, in exchange for payment, without conducting any physical examination, or even seeing them in an examination room. Nkanga also wrote prescriptions in the names of patients who did not even visit his medical office, according to the indictment. On one occasion, for instance, Nkanga asked a patient, “how many people are you representing today,” and then wrote prescriptions in the names of people, even though three were not present. Nkanga regularly prescribed over 100 oxycodone pills per patient per month until July 2018 when he reduced all patients’ monthly allotment, telling one patient he was “very worried” about scrutiny from law enforcement.
Dr. Nadem J. Sayegh -- Bronx and Westchester
Nadem J. Sayegh, a physician with offices in the Bronx and Westchester, allegedly maintained a corrupt relationship with a co-conspirator, issuing oxycodone prescriptions in his name, variations of his name, his family members’ names, and the names of other individuals in exchange for thousands of dollars in cash, expensive dinners, high-end whisky, cruises, and all-expense-paid trips. Sayegh wrote some of these prescriptions, for which there was no legitimate medical purpose, for individuals who did not visit his medical office, including a patient who was overseas and another patient who was incarcerated.
Marc Klein -- Pharmacist in White Plains
Marc Klein, a pharmacist in White Plains, is accused of filling oxycodone prescriptions that he knew were illegitimate, including prescriptions filled by a customer in multiple variations of his name and date of birth, and prescriptions filled in the names of individuals who never were present in the pharmacy. Klein filled thousands of these oxycodone prescriptions, “fronted” controlled substances, and made false reports to New York State authorities, in exchange for cash payments and a vacation. Klein admitted that he and his employees could be called “licensed drug dealers” because “oxy pays the bills” at his pharmacy.
- Cubangang, 50, of Franklin Square, New York, Gargan, 62, of Manhattan, New York, Kellerman, 54, of Queens, New York, and Piquant, 37, of Bronx, New York, have been charged in an Indictment with one count of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. They are also charged with one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, and conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
- Anderson, 57, of Staten Island, New York, and Grande, 53, of Staten Island, New York, have been charged in an Indictment with one count of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
- Pietropinto, 80, of Manhattan, New York, has been charged in a complaint with one count of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and two counts of distribution of controlled substances, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
- Nkanga, 65, of Staten Island, New York, has been charged in an Indictment with one count of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and four counts of distribution of controlled substances, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
- Sayegh, 64, of Yonkers, New York, has been charged in an Indictment with one count of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; one count of distribution of controlled substances, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; one count of health care fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison; making false statements, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; and aggravated identity theft, which carries a two year mandatory minimum prison sentence to be served consecutive to any other term of imprisonment.
- Klein, 47, of White Plains, New York, has been charged in an Indictment with one count of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and 14 counts of distribution of controlled substances, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Oxycodone has been a scourge in New York and this nation for two decades, ever since pharmaceutical companies lobbied doctors in the late 90’s that it was safe to prescribe for pain.
It turns out, the opioid was very addictive.
When several million addicts couldn’t afford the pills any more—after state crackdowns—many turned to Heroin.
Doctors practicing for years were able to circumvent the new rules requiring e-prescriptions, which mandated that most physicians had to prescribe opioids by e-mail, allowing computer tracking of what’s being ordered in pharmacies.
Last year, 72,000 people died of drug overdoses in the United States—a national record— and the majority of those were due to opioids.
PIX11's Mary Murphy tracked down Dr. Pietropinto in 2017 and asked him about the Oxycodon medications he prescribed to a woman who later overdosed.