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498 Count Indictment Charges 53 Defendants with Drug Conspiracy, Healthcare Fraud

Phony prescriptions issued to phony patients were diverted to street-level sales in Philadelphia and Montgomery County.

A 498-count indictment was unsealed today charging 53 people in a drug conspiracy that allegedly garnered more than $5 million in less than three years and defrauded the federal government of an untold amount of money in health insurance payments.

William Stukes of Philadelphia allegedly recruited patients and referred them to Dr. Norman Werther's Horsham office. The doctor would write prescriptions for oxycodone-based drugs without a medical need.

Drivers from Stukes's drug trafficking organization would take the "pseudo-patients" to Northeast Pharmacy on the 6700 block of Bustleton Avenue, where pharmacist Ihsanullah "Sean" Maaf would allegedly fill the prescriptions knowing they were fraudulent and structure his bank deposits to avoid federal reporting requirements.

The patients paid for the drugs using cash, private insurance or Medicaid and drivers from Stukes's organization would then reimburse them and give them additional payments of up to $300 to turn the the drugs over for resale on the streets. The defendants allegedly distributed over 200,000 pills in Philadelphia and Montgomery County over the course of the investigation.

44 of the 53 defendants have been arrested, including Werther, Maaf, Stuke and Stuke's girlfriend, who allegedly helped run the drug ring, as well as numerous street-level dealers, drivers, members of Werther's office staff and fake patients who helped perpetuate the fraud. Nine of those named in the indictment are fugitives.

"More people today abuse prescription drugs than heroin, cocaine,
inhalants and hallucinogens combined," said DEA Special Agent-in-Charge
John Bryfonski. "A drug dealer with a DEA registration is still a drug
dealer."

All defendants were charged with conspiracy to commit drug trafficking, which carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million. Many were also charged with possession with intent to distribute, distribution of controlled substances and/or health care fraud, depending on their role in the organization. Each count necessitates 10-20 years in prison and a $250,000 to $1 million fine.

Pharmacist Maaf was also charged with 119 counts of money laundering and 119 counts of structuring of financial transactions.

A forfeiture notice seeks over $900,000 from Maaf, representing the amount of property involved in the conspiracy. In addition, U.S. attorney Zane David Memeger said that, as many patients paid using insurance, "a large amount of money was eventually reimbursed by the government. We will be seeking to recover these funds."

The investigation, which has been ongoing since authorities received a tip in September of 2009 that Werther was writing fraudulent prescriptions, was a cooperative effort involving the Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Attorney's office, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, and police officers from Philadelphia, Upper Moreland and North Coventry.

"This type of large-scale, long-term investigation is only possible through teamwork," said FBI Special Agent-in-Charge George Venizelos.

 
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