A pain doctor from Long Island who allegedly collected $5.7 million in cash over 3½ years for writing oxycodone prescriptions out of his Queens clinic was one of 10 defendants charged in five indictments with illegal distribution of the opioid in Manhattan federal court on Thursday.
Dr. Dante Cubangbang, 50, of Franklin Square, was by far the largest oxycodone-pill prescriber in New York State tracked by Medicare and Medicaid and kept a money counter in his clinic to tote up 19,000 visits at $300 cash apiece and split the money among his employees, officials said.
“Instead of caring for their patients, these doctors were drug dealers in white coats,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman at a news conference. “They did it for a very simple reason: greed.”
Also charged were Cubangbang employees John Gargan, a nurse practitioner who also allegedly prescribed pills to people with no legitimate need, and Michael Kellerman, 54, of Queens, and Loren Piquant, 37, of the Bronx, who allegedly recruited patients for the scheme and bought and resold pills.
In other cases, prosecutors charged a Manhattan psychiatrist, a White Plains pharmacist and physicians from the Bronx and Staten Island with participating in schemes to make money from writing or filling thousands of illegitimate prescriptions for pain pills.
From 2012 to 2018, prosecutors said, Cubangbang’s clinic prescribed over 6 million pills to individuals who didn’t have a legitimate medical need — more than twice as many pills paid for by Medicare and Medicaid than for the next highest prescriber in the state.
Beginning in 2015, according to the charges, Cubangbang began insisting on cash payments because New York had initiated a new electronic monitoring program for prescription abuse that could have flagged the clinic’s high numbers.
The government said the prescriptions were written with perfunctory or no actual medical exams, no effort was made to wean patients from painkillers, and in many cases the clinic wrote identical prescriptions for members of the same family and occupants of the same building.
After “purported patients” filled their prescriptions at pharmacies, the indictment said, “crew chiefs” used the clinic to purchase pills from the patients and then would sell them to other dealers or to addicts on the street.
Clinic employees were under pressure to recruit “patients” from the street, including immigrants in the country illegally.
“Ten million documented people living in New York City and another 2, 3, maybe 4 million undocumented,” Kellerman allegedly told Gargan in one conversation. “… Are you telling me you cannot … get the people to come over here?”
Cubangbang was charged with three conspiracies: to illegally distribute oxycodone and to commit health care fraud and money laundering. He faces up to 50 years in prison.
He pleaded not guilty at a brief hearing late Thursday and was held after he couldn’t immediately post a $1 million bond required for bail.