Dr. Gordon Raskin says he first realized something was amiss at his new job at a Great Neck medical office when a bus full of "doctor shoppers" arrived from Toms River, N.J., 96 miles away.
The patients asked for scores of prescriptions for opioids from Raskin and his boss, Dr. Eric Jacobson, promising to pay in cash, Raskin said.
Suspecting the patients intended to sell the powerful painkillers to drug abusers rather than take them for legitimate medical reasons, Raskin sent them home. He suggested to Jacobson that the office adopt a rule that patients must live within 50 miles of Great Neck. Jacobson refused, he said.
"I knew something was wrong," Raskin, 56, told Newsday. "It was obvious these people were . . . [selling] their pills. But he [Jacobson] didn't seem to care."
Jacobson was arrested Tuesday by federal agents, charged with conspiring to illegally distribute oxycodone, and held without bail. Raskin's account to agents about the inner workings of Jacobson's office is part of the prosecution's case.
Prosecutors called Jacobson, of Huntington, one of the largest distributors of oxycodone in New York, having issued prescriptions for more than 2 million pills from August 2010 to December 2011. He collected as much as $20,000 in cash a day from patients, prosecutors said, and knowingly prescribed medication "without a legitimate medical purpose" to doctor-shoppers who resold pills to addicts.
His patients included David Laffer and his wife, Melinda Brady, who were convicted in last June's killings of four people during the robbery of a Medford pharmacy for oxycodone. Jacobson also prescribed drugs to two female patients whose deaths are being investigated.
Jacobson's attorney, John Martin of Great Neck, said his client gave appropriate treatment to all his patients.
He said Raskin was "tougher" on patients, whereas Jacobson was more "forgiving" and inclined to give second chances to certain patients who strayed from their treatment plans.
Federal drug agents began investigating Jacobson last summer, and raided his office in December. After the raid, he surrendered his authority to prescribe controlled substances, telling a reporter he wanted to "reflect and make sure I'm doing things appropriately."
But within weeks, he hired Raskin through a craigslist ad so his practice could continue prescribing pills, prosecutors said in documents that did not name Raskin, referring to him as "John Doe."
Raskin said Jacobson told him at the outset about the federal raid, and explained that he could no longer prescribe controlled substances. Raskin said he would take the job, so long as Jacobson understood that he would not blindly prescribe drugs. Jacobson agreed, Raskin said.
"He sounded like a nice fellow," Raskin said.
The incident involving the busload of patients from New Jersey was among dozens of instances in which people who appeared to be addicts, drug dealers and mentally ill patients were accommodated at Jacobson's Northern Boulevard office over Raskin's protests -- and against standard medical practice, Raskin said.
Raskin recalled seeing at least two patients, who claimed to need oxycodone for back pain, carrying a large refrigerator into the office for Jacobson. They were given prescriptions, according to Raskin and prosecution documents.
He also determined one likely pill-seller had laced his urine with oxycodone, so that a drug test would show he actually took the drug. The tactic is commonly used by doctor shoppers who falsely claim a medical need for the pain pills, and sell them illegally. Jacobson would not agree to discharge the patient, prosecutors said.
"It's a very serious issue," Raskin said.
Jacobson invited patients to return to the office even after Raskin had identified them as drug sellers or abusers and discharged them, Raskin said.
A source familiar with the investigation said Raskin went to the Drug Enforcement Administration with his concerns about Jacobson's practice.
Raskin kept working there, and said he repeatedly urged Jacobson to stop his staffers from blindly prescribing opioids to people who shouldn't have them. "Do the right thing," Raskin said he told Jacobson on May 1 during a heated argument over medical ethics.
But Jacobson had already hired a nurse practitioner to write prescriptions for patients Raskin turned away, and reduced Raskin's work schedule, according to documents from U.S. prosecutors.
"Repeated attempts and repeated urging of my colleague to do the right thing, to avoid . . . abuse, were systematically ignored," Raskin said. "Abuse can result in overdose and death."
Jacobson's attorney, Martin, disputed Raskin's characterization of his client. "The idea that he [Jacobson] was running some shabby practice and Raskin came in and tried to clean it up is ridiculous," Martin said.
Until December, Raskin, who grew up in the Bronx and went to medical school in Israel, had never heard of Jacobson. He was living with his wife and family in Berkeley, Calif., and helping to manage a Methadone clinic. He liked his job, Raskin said, but wanted to earn more to cover his bills.
When he saw Jacobson's craigslist ad offering $400,000 a year, he responded. They agreed to a deal for $300,000 in salary, along with expenses and the loan of a vehicle from Jacobson, Raskin said.
"It seemed like a good opportunity," Raskin said.
On Thursday, two days after his arrest, Jacobson's wife showed up at the practice with police and accused Raskin of "lying" about her husband. She ordered him out, along with the five patients in the waiting room. She also told cops to take away the keys to the SUV Jacobson had loaned to Raskin.
"It's not his anymore," she told one officer.
Raskin handed over the keys. Then he collected his laptop packed a small bag and left.
Shivani Jacobson did not return calls for comment.
Raskin said he will soon return to California to be with his family, but isn't sure what he will do for work.
With Robert E. Kessler