Medical professionals from New Jersey and Staten Island, along with four longshoremen and a laborer, were arrested in a prescription painkiller bust. Credit: Darren McCollester/Getty Images
Four longshoremen, a laborer, a pharmacist, a chiropractor and a pain management doctor have been arrested and indicted in Staten Island.
The arrests came at the culmination of a 20-month-long investigation involving various law enforcement agencies. "Operation Shore Thing" exposed a scheme involving medical professionals on Staten Island illegally providing longshoremen with prescription pain medication.
The longshoremen were showing up to work high, according to Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan.
"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."
The doctor prescribed a mind-blowing 1,775,703 oxycodone pills over four years, Donovan said. Laid out side-by-side, that number of pills would span 7 miles.
Donovan said the case shows the need for a national database to track prescription drugs.
The doctors were also found guilty of insurance fraud.
Chiropractor Thomas Dinardo, 44, and doctor Mihir Bhatt, 47, would schedule unnecessary medical treatments like MRIs and chiropractic treatment and bill insurance companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield and Cigna for services he did not render.
They would direct their patients to fill prescriptions with Rita Patel, 48, at Shayona Pharmacy in New Jersey.
Patel would also overcharge people, turning an extra profit for herself.
Four longshoremen were arrested: Nicholas Tornabene, 28; Rosario Savastano, 28, Christopher Galasso, 29; and Joseph Favuzza, 29.
Laborer Charles Tornabene, 28, was also arrested.
The longshoremen apparently evaded drug tests at work using things like prosthetics and synthetic urine.
Staten Island has been struggling with prescription painkiller abuse for some time now. Last year, New Yorkers died from painkiller overdoses in Staten Island at three times the rate of anywhere else in the city.
"This case is another example of criminals perpetuating and exploiting addiction, at great risk to the public's safety," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said. "It is especially despicable when licensed medical practitioners put profit over others' welfare."