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Doctor arrested for alleged painkiller scheme, officials say

Ernesto Lopez, a New York-licensed doctor, after he

Ernesto Lopez, a New York-licensed doctor, after he was arrested on Nov. 2, 2017. Lopez and two other defendants are charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances. Credit: DEA Photo

A doctor who operated clinics in Franklin Square, Manhattan and Jackson Heights, Queens, was arrested Thursday by Drug Enforcement Administration agents for illegally writing thousands of “medically unnecessary” prescriptions for oxycodone pills and fentanyl patches, according to officials.

The doctor, Ernesto Lopez, pediatric nurse-practitioner Sharon Washington-Bhamre and Audra Baker, one of the doctor’s employees, were each charged with conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, officials said.

Lopez, 74, of Flushing; Baker, 49, of Manhattan; and Washington-Bhamre, 52, of Rochelle Park, New Jersey, were to be arraigned Thursday night in Manhattan federal court.

Between 2015 and last month, Lopez made an estimated $2 million by writing more than 8,000 oxycodone prescriptions alone without performing “meaningful physical examinations of patients,” according to the criminal complaint.

The usual examination of a patient who got a prescription from Lopez consisted of the doctor recording a patient’s vital signs and at times briefly moving the person’s limbs, officials said.

Lopez charged $200 to $300 in cash for each visit, according to the complaint.

The scheme also allegedly involved patients selling the drugs to a dealer, who then resold the powerful painkillers on the street.

Baker, who assisted Lopez in his practice, allegedly “steered” at least one patient to an unnamed person, who then resold the pills the doctor prescribed.

Washington-Bhamre is accused of writing scores of prescriptions for people she did not examine whose names were provided by the unnamed street dealer, officials said.

“As alleged, these defendants acted like drug dealers in lab coats, directly contributing to the glut of highly-addictive opioids flooding the streets of New York City and its surrounding communities,” acting Southern District U.S. Attorney Joon Kim said in a statement. “Our office will continue to investigate and prosecute all those who abuse their medical licenses to enrich themselves.”

The head of the New York DEA office, James Hunt, said in a statement: “At the same time that cartels are pushing fentanyl on opioid users, this investigation identified a rogue doctor following suit. With offices strategically located in Nassau County, Manhattan, and Queens, Dr. Lopez allegedly wrote unnecessary prescriptions for oxycodone and fentanyl worth millions of dollars on the street.”

If convicted, Lopez, Washington-Bhamre, and Baker face up to 20 years in prison. Attorney information for the defendants was not immediately available.

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