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Judge: Doctor faked drug habit to avoid jail

A doctor who prosecutors say was selling prescription drugs illegally from his office across the street from Massapequa High School appeared to be faking a drug habit to get into a treatment program that could have helped him to avoid jail, a Nassau judge ruled Thursday.

Judge Steven Jaeger said that Dr. Saji Francis, as a physician, knows better than most how to make himself appear to be a drug addict. In denying Francis' application to join the program, Jaeger said reports show that on more than one occasion, Francis said he was using opiates and marijuana when his urine tested clean.

"It is the court's opinion that his behavior was calculated, and lacking any evidence of substance abuse or addiction," Jaeger said from the bench.

Francis, 49, of Melville, who was known locally as "Dr. Frank," is facing nine counts of felony criminal sale of prescriptions on charges that he sold prescriptions for oxycodone, Vicodin and other opiates to patients without examining them. Police and local activists have said that, although they don't believe he wrote prescriptions to high school students, his behavior helped feed the local opiate addiction epidemic.

He pleaded not guilty and is free on bail.

Francis applied to participate in the new statewide program that allows nonviolent defendants who can show that their drug addiction was the reason for their crime to avoid jail by completing a drug-treatment program.

Several representatives from the organization Drug Free Massapequa were sitting in the courtroom to show their opposition to Francis' acceptance into the program.

Francis' lawyer, Dennis Lemke of Mineola, said he is outraged that Jaeger went against the court's own substance abuse evaluation team, which found Francis eligible for the program. "For the court to ignore its own report is very disturbing," Lemke said.

In court, Lemke cited documents that said Francis was an intravenous drug user when he was in medical school in India and later became addicted marijuana and oxycodone.

But prosecutor Teresa Corrigan said in court that Francis, who earned about $250,000 a year, was out for profit, not to feed an addiction.

In a statement, District Attorney Kathleen Rice said judicial diversion "wasn't intended for a for-profit drug dealer who sets up shop across the street from a school in our community. It was intended for the nonviolent addict who it makes sense to treat rather than incarcerate."

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