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For Immediate Release:  
For Further Information:
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October 20, 2009

Office of The Attorney General
- Anne Milgram, Attorney General
Division of Criminal Justice
- Deborah L. Gramiccioni, Director
Office of Insurance Fraud Prosecutor
- Riza Dagli, Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor

 

Peter Aseltine
609-292-4791

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Doctors and Pharmacists Arrested in Takedown of Hudson County Crime Network Dealing in Prescription Pain Pills
Division of Criminal Justice and Jersey City Police uncover narcotics dealing, Medicaid fraud

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TRENTON – Attorney General Anne Milgram today announced the arrests of 13 people, including doctors and pharmacists, in the takedown of a major criminal narcotics network in Hudson County that was responsible for the black market distribution of thousands of prescription pain pills such as OxyContin and Percocet.

According to Criminal Justice Director Deborah L. Gramiccioni, the arrests stem from Operation MedScam, a year-long investigation by the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit of the Division of Criminal Justice’s Office of Insurance Fraud Prosecutor and the Jersey City Police Department’s Special Investigation Unit. The ongoing investigation uncovered a criminal network that was obtaining fraudulent narcotics prescriptions from doctors and filling them at various pharmacies. Medicaid and private insurers were being billed for phony prescriptions and doctor visits.

“These defendants ripped off Medicaid and sold dangerous narcotics on the street, peddling black market pain pills such as OxyContin. With these arrests, we have shut down their two-pronged criminal enterprise,” said Attorney General Milgram.

The arrests made late yesterday and today (Oct. 19 and 20), include three alleged ringleaders: Robert Silverman, 43, of Jersey City; Louis Lisi, 34, of Union City; and Brian Kelly, 48, of Hoboken. Silverman allegedly ran his own ring, while the other two allegedly worked together. However, the rings allegedly used the same pharmacists to obtain narcotics and at least one of the same doctors to write prescriptions. They also sometimes supplied each other with pills. During the arrests, more than 1,000 pills were recovered from the individuals and locations searched.

The leaders allegedly paid Medicaid beneficiaries to obtain fake prescriptions for painkillers and other drugs from two doctors, Dr. Clifton Howell, 53, of West Orange, whose medical practice is at 550 Newark Ave., Jersey City, and Dr. Magdy Elamir, 56, of North Saddle Brook, whose practice is at 550 Summit Ave., Jersey City. Both of those doctors were arrested.

Two pharmacists were arrested. They are Babak Bamdad, 41, pharmacist in charge at Tucker Drugs, 1000 Washington St., Hoboken, and Amir Tadros, 32, pharmacist in charge at Five Corners Pharmacy, 591 Summit Ave., Jersey City.

Six other individuals were arrested as alleged street-level distributors for the narcotics rings. They are Joseph Burkhardt, 50, of Jersey City; Michele J. Oliver, 41, of Wallington; John Bussanich, 23, of Cliffside Park; Danny Reed, 25, of Toms River; Marty Taraboccia, 25 of Fairview; and Jack Kennedy, 28, of Keyport.

The rings allegedly distributed the prescription pain pills throughout Hudson County and other parts of the state, including Bergen, Ocean, Morris and Monmouth counties. A single 30 milligram OxyContin pill, known as a “blue,” typically sells for $10 to $20 on the street, while a 10 milligram Percocet pill sells for $5 to $8.

The arrests were made by detectives and officers of the Division of Criminal Justice and Jersey City Police Department.

“Operation MedScam targeted and uncovered every aspect of these narcotics rings, from the ringleaders, to the doctors who wrote phony prescriptions, to the pharmacists who filled them, to the distributors who sold the pain pills on the street,” said Director Gramiccioni. “These arrests are the result of a highly effective partnership between our Medicaid Fraud Control Unit and the Jersey City Police Department.”

Jersey City Chief of Police Thomas Comey stated “I would like to commend everyone involved in Operation MedScam. Greed and the illegal narcotics trade know no boundaries. This operation shows the commitment by law enforcement to arrest and prosecute offenders regardless of their social, professional or economic standing. Operation MedScam is further proof that cooperation among the law enforcement community can produce great results.”

The investigation revealed that the two doctors, Howell and Elamir, were allegedly writing prescriptions for Medicaid beneficiaries in exchange for cash or the ability to bill Medicaid, without requiring medical need or a medical examination. Howell allegedly demanded $75 per visit, while Elamir allegedly demanded $50. In other instances, the doctors allegedly wrote prescriptions for narcotics based only on names provided to them by the ringleaders.

The Medicaid beneficiaries would ask for prescriptions for narcotics as well as non-narcotic medications, typically high-priced maintenance drugs such as asthma or allergy medications. The doctors allegedly wrote both the narcotic and non-narcotic prescriptions. The Medicaid beneficiaries took the prescriptions to the pharmacies to obtain the narcotics, or in some instances, Silverman or other ring members obtained the narcotics themselves.

The two pharmacists who were arrested, Bambad and Tadros, allegedly filled fraudulent narcotics prescriptions for the criminal network. They allegedly demanded cash for the pain pills because they did not want to bill Medicaid or private insurers for narcotics, which are closely monitored. However, they would provide the painkillers at a discount or without charge if they were also given prescriptions for other non-narcotic medicines, such as the high-priced asthma medication Advair. They allegedly billed Medicaid and private insurers for the non-narcotic prescriptions without ever dispensing the medications.

“As we have seen historically, this type of health care fraud and street level distribution doesn't occur without the involvement of the medical providers,” said Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Riza Dagli. “Criminal activity by doctors, pharmacists, and other professionals who are in a position of public trust is particularly egregious and is a priority for this office.”

Investigators executed search warrants at the homes of Silverman and Lisi. Searches of the doctors’ offices, Tucker Pharmacy and Five Corners Pharmacy were underway.

Bank accounts containing more than $1 million were seized today. They were seized in connection with an action filed by the Division of Criminal Justice to seize and forfeit assets as alleged proceeds and instruments of the defendants’ criminal activities, including residential and commercial real estate, vehicles, bank accounts and safe deposit boxes

In addition, approximately $7,000 in cash was seized from Lisi and his house, along with several falsely labeled prescription bottles, a quantity of OxyContin pills, and several fraudulent prescriptions for narcotics. Another $8,000 was seized from a safe deposit box in Lisi’s name. Approximately $20,000 was seized at Silverman’s house, along with crack cocaine, a quantity of OxyContin pills, and several falsely labeled prescription bottles.

The defendants were charged as follows:

Alleged Leaders

  • Robert Silverman - Distribution of Controlled Dangerous Substance (CDS) Within 500 Feet of Certain Public Property (2nd degree), Distribution of CDS (3rd degree).
  • Louis Lisi - Distribution of CDS Within 500 Feet of Certain Public Property (2nd degree), Distribution of CDS (3rd degree) (2 counts), Endangering the Welfare of a Child (2nd degree).
  • Brian Kelly - Distribution of CDS Within 500 Feet of Certain Public Property (2nd degree), Distribution of CDS (3rd degree), Distribution of CDS Within 1,000 Feet of School (3rd degree).

Doctors

  • Dr. Clifton Howell - Distribution of CDS (2nd degree), Health Care Claims Fraud (2nd degree), Medicaid Fraud (3rd degree).
  • Dr. Magdy Elamir - Distribution of CDS (2nd degree), Health Care Claims Fraud (2nd degree), Medicaid Fraud (3rd degree).

Pharmacists

  • Babak Bamdad - Health Care Claims Fraud (2nd degree), Medicaid Fraud (3rd degree).
  • Amir Tadros - Health Care Claims Fraud (2nd degree), Medicaid Fraud (3rd degree).

Alleged Drug Distributors

Burkhardt and Kennedy were each charged with Distribution of CDS Within 500 Feet of Certain Public Property (2nd degree), Distribution of CDS (3rd degree), and Distribution of CDS Within 1,000 Feet of School (3rd degree). Reed and Oliver were each charged with Conspiracy to Distribute CDS (3rd degree). Taraboccia and Bussanich were each charged with Possession of CDS with Intent to Distribute (2nd degree).

Additional arrests are expected.

Attorney General Milgram credited Detective Kevin Gannon and Sgt. Fred Weidman of the Office of Insurance Fraud Prosecutor’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit for leading the investigation under the Supervision of Deputy Attorney General Erik Daab, Deputy Chief of the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, and Deputy Attorneys General Debra Conrad and Cynthia Vazquez.

They were assisted by the following members of the Jersey City Police Department’s Special Investigation Unit under the supervision of Chief Thomas Comey: Capt. Gary Lallo, Sgt. Anthony Musante, Sgt. Wally Wolf, Detective Wael Shahid, Detective Jeff Guilfoyle, Detective Vincent Disbrow, Detective Hector Marrero, Police Officer Alex Torres, Police Officer Chris Dolan, and Police Officer Erik Infantes.

Deputy Attorney General Carol Stanton Meier, Detective Sgt. Scott Naismyth and Analyst Bethany Schussler are handling the asset forfeiture action for the Division of Criminal Justice.

The arrested defendants were being held in the Hudson County Jail in lieu of bails ranging from $75,000 to $150,000. They are expected to be arraigned tomorrow before Superior Court Judge Kevin G. Callahan.

The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The investigation will be presented to a state grand jury for review and potential indictment.

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