Prosecutors Bust Prescription Drug Ring on Staten Island
ST. GEORGE — A $12 million prescription drug ring that provided Staten Island and Brooklyn longshoremen with thousands of oxycodone pills for four years has been busted, prosecutors said.
District Attorney Dan Donovan announced on Wednesday the arrest of nine people — including a doctor, pharmacist, chiropractor and five longshoremen — who he said were involved in an insurance fraud scheme to rip off insurance companies and acquire the pills.
For four years, prosecutors a say pain management doctor Mihir Bhatt, 47, who lives in New Jersey but practices in Staten Island, fraudulently prescribed 1,775,703 oxycodone pills, which were distributed and taken by several longshormen in Staten Island and Brooklyn.
"The number of oxycodone pills prescribed by the doctor in this case is staggering," Donovan said.
Donovan said that Bhatt, who worked out of the NYC Wellness Center at 4870 Hylan Blvd. and several other locations, would scam insurance companies by charging them for perfunctory or nonexistent treatment and prescribe pain drugs after.
Patients would allegedly come into the NYC Wellness Center where owner Thomas Dinardo, 44, and Bhatt would tell them to make repeat visits and receive several treatments, Donovan said.
The exam, if done, would last an average of three to five minutes, and Bhatt would bill the insurance for procedures that take 25, 40 or 60 minutes.
If local pharmacies did not fill the prescription, Bhatt would direct them to Shayona Pharmacy, in Perth Amboy, NJ, where owner Rita Patel, 48, would fill them and direct Bhatt how to maximize the profits in the scheme, Donovan said.
Also, Steven John Alcaras, 42, a longshoreman who works in the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, would manage appointments and pick up prescriptions for other longshoreman who visited Bhatt. Many would take them on the job, Donovan said.
"My father worked as a longshoreman, so I grew up knowing the dangers of the job," Donovan said. "I can’t imagine how those risks are multiplied when people show up to work high on narcotics."
Prosecutors took down the ring after a 20-month long investigation. They recovered $3 million in assets, 12 pounds of gold bars, and oxcycodone pills from Bhatt, Donovan said.
The investigation also netted Joseph Favuzza, 29, a known Colombo crime family associate who was accused of running an illegal online gambling site, Bettordays.ag.
All were arrested and arraigned on Tuesday, except for Bhatt and Patel who are waiting possible extradition from New Jersey, Donovan said.
Bhatt, Dinardo and Alcaras were charged with enterprise corruption and face up to 25 years in prison if convicted. Patel was charged with criminal sale of a prescription for a controlled substance and could serve a maximum of 15 years in jail.
Longshoreman Nicholas Tornabene, 28, of Brooklyn, was charged with criminal sale of a control substance and faces up to nine years in prison.
His twin brother Charles Tornabene and longshoremen Rosario Savastano, 28, and Christopher Galasso, 29, were charged with insurance fraud and face a maximum of seven years in prison.
Favuzza was charged with promoting gambling and faces up to four years in prison.