M.D.'s Are the New Pain-Pill Crime Wave

Dr. Dealer

The grand jury investigation was triggered when painkiller addict David Laffer shot and killed four people in a Medford, Long Island, pharmacy during a robbery in June 2011. Laffer was sentenced to life for the first-degree murder, and his wife got prison time for robbery.

One of Laffer's doctors was Stan Xuhui Li, a Flushing anesthesiologist running a pain-management clinic. Li had written Laffer scripts for 2,500 pills in the month before the robbery. In all, prosecutors say, Li saw 90 patients a day and wrote 17,000 prescriptions over two years. His patients then actually sold the drugs on the street in front of his clinic. Investigators linked 16 overdose deaths to Li's practice, including drug victim Michael Cornetta , 40, who overdosed twice before pills finally killed him in November 2010. (Li has not been charged in any of those deaths.)

In June, police raided the Woodmere home of Shaikh Monirul Hasan, a 57-year-old Bangladesh-born doctor practicing in Sunset Park. The raid recovered $150,000 in cash and gold bars. Hasan, court papers show, prescribed 3,480 oxycodone pills over two years using the name of a woman who was unaware her name was being used. He also allegedly prescribed drugs to people whom he had never treated or even met.

Over six years, pharmacists complained more than 30 times that Yonkers cardiologist Rohan Wijetilaka (left) was issuing too many prescriptions.
Over six years, pharmacists complained more than 30 times that Yonkers cardiologist Rohan Wijetilaka (left) was issuing too many prescriptions.
An undercover cop watched Shaikh Monirul Hasan exchange a prescription for $80. Pharmacists then filled the script without asking for an ID.
An undercover cop watched Shaikh Monirul Hasan exchange a prescription for $80. Pharmacists then filled the script without asking for an ID.

Hasan was a family doctor, but he was writing 100 painkiller prescriptions a day. The police sent an undercover into his office and watched him write the woman's name on a prescription in exchange for $80 in cash from a client. Pharmacists then filled the prescriptions without even asking for proof of identity. Of Hasan's conduct, Special Narcotics Prosecutor Brennan said, "There was not even a pretense of delivering medical care."

In July, Rohan Wijetilaka, a 63-year-old cardiologist living in Manhattan but practicing in Yonkers, was accused of illegally prescribing oxycodone, Percocet, and other painkillers over a six-year period. During that span, pharmacists complained more than 30 times that he was issuing too many prescriptions. Some of his patients told police that he sold them prescription drugs if they allowed him to bill their insurance companies for unnecessary tests. In June, his license to practice here was suspended, but someone kept using his registration number to write prescriptions.

That month, authorities across the region put together a series of investigations that led to 100 arrests, including two doctors, a nurse, the owner of a pharmacy and corporation, the manager of a doctor's office, and a phlebotomist (someone who takes blood samples).

One of the doctors swept up in the operation, Eric Jacobson, kept a pain-management practice in Great Neck, Long Island, and was one of the largest oxycodone prescribers in the state. Three of his employees had quit because they believed Jacobson was illegally prescribing the drugs in exchange for cash payments. One of those, a psychiatrist, sent him a text, saying, "You are running an illegal practice, and I don't want any part of it, so I am not returning to work."

Jacobson would see such patients on Tuesdays and Thursdays and often take home between $12,000 and $20,000 in cash. In 2011, one of Jacobson's patients died of a cocaine overdose, one day after receiving a prescription for 240 pills from Jacobson's office. The cause of death was chronic substance abuse.

The DEA raided his office, and Jacobson agreed to give up his license on December 1, 2011. But he continued to operate, allegedly finding another doctor and a nurse to prescribe the drugs to his customers. The new doctor came to believe that Jacobson was purposely serving addicts and people who were reselling the pills. He tried to institute better controls, but Jacobson resisted. The nurse, however, was more cooperative with Jacobson's demands.

Another Long Island doctor caught in the net, William Conway, was charged in Nassau County with illegally prescribing oxycodone between 2009 and 2011. In all, Conway prescribed 782,000 pills in less than two years. His "examinations" involved little more than taking the patient's height, weight, and blood pressure.

When he learned he might be under scrutiny, Conway told a patient he wanted "to review and alter his treatment records to ensure all the treatment dates fit," the indictment alleges.

Two of Conway's patients, Giovanni Manzella and Christopher Basmas, fatally overdosed in 2011, shortly after Conway gave them prescriptions for hundreds of pills. Their patient records showed that Conway had prescribed more than 1,800 pills total for the two men in just a few months.

Conway told investigators that he prescribed the drug to people he knew were addicted without examining them. Conway also admitted he "pre-signed" prescriptions to allow his office aide to dispense the pills as soon as patients entered the office. That aide, Robert Hachemeister, told investigators that a number of pharmacies had questioned the amount of prescriptions emanating from Conway's office, but the doctor ignored them.

Brentwood, Long Island–based nurse practitioner Rools Deslouches, a "pain-management specialist," was also accused of dispensing the drug without performing examinations or asking questions. In all, he wrote 4,300 prescriptions for 422,000 pills between August 2009 and October 2011. Half of his clients were people with criminal records. He typically charged about $200 per five-minute visit in which he wrote a prescription for oxycodone. In one visit, he actually suggested an ailment the patient could claim to have.

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