A group of doctors and medical professionals illegally sold opioids in the New York metro area in exchange for cash, paid vacations and gifts, with some of those drugs leading to fatal overdoses, law enforcement officials said Thursday.
Five doctors, a pharmacist, a nurse, two clinic workers and an alleged street dealer were arrested on Wednesday and Thursday morning as part of a sweeping round-up of illegal sellers of the narcotics, officials said. They were charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and conspiracy to commit health-care fraud and were expected to appear in federal court in Manhattan on Thursday afternoon.
The defendants, who were based in Manhattan, Staten Island, Queens and Westchester County, sold the oxycodone pills to clients “who had no legitimate need for it,” including to clients recently released from rehabilitation or prison, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Geoffrey Berman said at a press conference.
One of the doctors, Dante Cubangbang, 50 years old of Nassau County, New York, is accused of selling more than 6 million oxycodone pills from a Queens medical center since January 2012, the most prescriptions of the narcotic in the state, Mr. Berman said. Dr. Cubangbang, as well as one of his nurses and clinic employees, received more than $5 million dollars in cash for their dealings, according to the U.S. attorney.
“Instead of caring for their patients, these doctors were drug dealers in white coats,” Mr. Berman said. “They hid behind their medical licenses to sell addictive, dangerous narcotics.”
Another suspect, Dr. Carl Anderson, 57, is accused of opening his Staten Island office in the middle of the night to prescribe nearly a million pills to noisy crowds of drug-addicted clients, prompting nearby residents to call the police. Several of his patients died, Mr. Berman said, including two of his employees who received prescriptions to oxycodone. Another Staten Island-based physician, Nkanga Nkanga, 65, regularly prescribed more than 100 pills per patient a month, according to prosecutors.
Nadem Sayegh, 65, dealt opioids from offices in the Bronx and Westchester in return for cruises, an all-expense-paid trip to Puerto Rico, high-end whiskey and fancy meals, Mr. Berman said. Mark Klein, 47, who sold the drugs from his pharmacy in White Plains, N.Y., for cash and a vacation, once described himself as a “licenced drug dealer,” to one of his clients, according to Mr. Berman.
“He added, ‘Oxy pays the bills around here,’” Mr. Berman said.
A lawyer for Dr. Cubangbang could not be reached for comment. Attorneys for the other suspects did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Mr. Berman said the suspects used so-called “crew chiefs” tasked with recruiting clients for the doctors. The crew chiefs then bought some of the opioids back from the clients and distributed them on the city streets.
New York City is in the midst of what law enforcements have described as an opioid epidemic. Every six hours, someone in New York City dies of a drug overdose, according to the city’s health department. While the rate at which people are dying from drugs slowed in 2017, the number of fatal drug overdoses rose for the seventh straight year to 1,487, up 62 from a year before, according to the city’s health department. The rise has been driven by opioids, particularly the powerful, synthetic opioid, fentanyl, according to city officials.
—Katie Honan contributed to this article