Thirteen people, including three doctors and four nurse practitioners, face charges for allegedly turning several Brooklyn clinics into "pill mills" and flooding city streets with millions of illegal painkillers, authorities said.
Investigators from the New York City Special Narcotics Prosecutor's office and the DEA's Long Island Tactical Diversion Squad began making arrests and executing search warrants at the clinics early Friday, officials said.
The investigation targeted three clinics in Brooklyn that allegedly operated as "pill mills." More than six million oxycodone pills, worth an estimated $60 to $100 million, were illegally prescribed and pumped onto the black market, officials said at a news briefing.
The defendants, one of whom is a former assemblyman who owns a company that deals with the clinics, are also accused of ordering unnecessary medical procedures and billing them to Medicaid and Medicare to the tune of a $24 million fraud, officials said. Patients' painkiller prescriptions were allegedly withheld unless they submitted to the procedures.
More than half of those funds went through MetroPlus, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Health + Hospitals, the city's public health system. And that $13 million in publicly-funded health benefits could otherwise have paid for critical treatments -- for example, 120,000 breast cancer screenings or 264,000 prostate cancer screenings, authorities said.
At the height of the conspiracies in 2016, the three clinics racked up more than 1,600 office visits per month from over 20 patients, officials said.
One of the defendants, Dr. Lazar Feygin, allegedly used the money to fund regular luxury goods purchases, real estate holdings and frequent overseas vacations, officials said. A series of wire-tapped phone calls revealed that in order to continue prescribing the opioids, alcohol-positive urinalysis records for his patients were systematically deleted.
The clinics allegedly continued to provide prescriptions to patients who were likely selling pills or abusing other narcotic drugs, despite blatant evidence like positive drug tests, officials said.
According to authorities, oxycodone prescriptions were often written without a legitimate medical reason, and Feygin allegedly pressured some physicians to write the bogus 'scripts. He allegedly told an accomplice one of the medical practitioners would have a "big problem" with him because she sent patients to pain management rather than the office to obtain more pills.
The suspects face charges of conspiracy, money laundering, criminal sale of a prescription for a controlled substance, health care fraud and other crimes.
"They manipulated some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers at a time when we are seeing increasing numbers of deaths involving opioid overdoses, more than 1,000 in calendar year 2016," New York City Special Commissioner of Investigation Mark Peters said in a statement. "Those are real dollars, for real medical tests, which can help real patients. They used pain pills instead of revolves, but they robbed the city all the same."
"My office is going to do everything we can ... to crack down on anyone who tries to profit off the misery of addiction," added Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez.