The leader of what federal authorities consider the largest oxycodone ring dismantled on Long Island since a crackdown on black-market prescription painkillers began admitted in court Thursday to his role in the wide-ranging drug enterprise.
Cedric Moss, 47, of Jamaica, Queens, who was arrested in February, pleaded guilty in Central Islip federal court to illegal distribution of oxycodone in a scheme to obtain and sell what officials termed "a staggering amount" of the narcotic painkiller in 2012 and 2013 -- more than 100,000 pills.
As part of a plea deal before U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert, Moss faces up to 20 years in prison.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Canty has said the ring was the largest taken down by a federal drug task force formed after the Father's Day 2011 massacre at a Medford pharmacy by a robber seeking prescription painkillers.
Four people were shot to death by David Laffer in that June 19 robbery. Laffer was sentenced to life in prison for the killings.
The brazen nature of the pharmacy robbery in pursuit of prescription painkillers not only spurred the task force's formation but also highlighted the growing demand and abuse of the highly addictive narcotics. Two years after the killings, a New York State online system to track prescription drug abuse showed at least 200 instances of apparent doctor shopping -- when patients visit a number of doctors in search of pain pills.
A federal study released in 2013 showed that enough pain relievers were sold in 2010 to medicate each adult in the United States with a 5-milligram dose of hydrocodone every four hours for a month.
Deception and distribution
Moss' prescription narcotic ring was working to meet the high demand on the East Coast by illegally obtaining about $3 million worth of oxycodone from pharmacies, mostly on Long Island, officials said.
The pills would then be sold across the entire metropolitan area and other areas, officials said.
In the complex scheme, members of the ring obtained New York State-issued prescription blanks, officials said. Doctors order the blanks from the state Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, according to court records. Officials have not said how the ring members obtained the forms.
On the blanks, the ring members would forge a prescription for oxycodone using a computer program, officials said. To add an air of authenticity, they also forged a request for a non-narcotic, such as the anti-inflammatory drug Mobic, on another prescription blank in the name of the same doctor, officials said. Both prescriptions would then be submitted to a pharmacist.
Ring members used another computer program to add the name of legitimate doctors and their supposed telephone numbers to the blanks, officials said. The phone numbers actually came back to a ring member. A pharmacist calling to check the legitimacy of a prescription would unknowingly speak with a ring member, pretending to work for the doctor listed on the blank, officials said.
Neither the doctors whose names were used nor the pharmacists who filled the prescriptions have been accused of any wrongdoing.
The ring paid people they called "runners" to fill the prescriptions and distribute the oxycodone, officials said.
Several runners working in New York City have been arrested by the NYPD and the office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor for the City of New York. Both agencies worked on the ring with DEA agents and federal prosecutors in the Eastern District, which includes Long Island, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.
Prosecutor Canty said after Moss' plea that the probe is continuing. Several members of the ring have previously pleaded guilty to oxycodone distribution charges and are awaiting sentencing, according to officials.