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Doctors charged in fentanyl kickback scheme, officials say

Five Manhattan doctors were charged Friday with a kickback scheme to overprescribe the pain medication fentanyl that involved a Long Island pharmaceutical sales manager who doled out lucrative sham speaker’s fees, nightclub romps and lap dances.

The Manhattan federal court case was the latest in a series of prosecutions focused on Insys Therapeutics Inc.’s marketing tactics for an addictive fentanyl spray, Subsys. Several Insys executives, including its founder, are charged in Boston with scheming to bribe doctors.

The five doctors — Gordon Freedman, Jeffrey Goldstein, Todd Schlifstein, Dialecti Voudouris and Alexandru Burducea — all pleaded not guilty in Manhattan federal court to charges that included conspiracy and violation of anti-kickback laws. They all face up to at least 30 years in prison.

Jonathan Roper of Commack, the former sales manager, was charged in 2016 with violating anti-kickback laws by paying doctors to write high numbers of prescriptions. On Friday he was named an unindicted co-conspirator with the doctors. Officials said he pleaded guilty is now a cooperating witness.

Interim U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said the doctors had sold out their ethical obligations, prescribing a drug 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine in a “scheme to use their patients as an instrument for profit.”

According to the indictment, bogus “speaker’s fees” — payments for supposed information seminars for other doctors — were the primary tool used to put a veneer of commercial legitimacy on what were essentially bribes to influence prescription habits.

“Almost all of you have speakers,” Roper wrote in one email to salesmen for three of the doctors accused, the indictment said. “Use that to your advantage and repeatedly inform them of one simple guideline for them to follow as . . . speakers NO SCRIPTS NO PROGRAMS.”

Freedman, prosecutors said, was paid $308,000 for events from 2012 to 2015, and by the end of 2014 he was the fourth-highest-ranking prescriber of the fentanyl spray in the country, responsible for $1.1 million in net sales. Goldstein got $196,000 and became the sixth-highest prescriber.

The events, prosecutors said, were frequently bogus — with forged sign-in sheets of supposed attendees. Sometimes doctors allegedly just charged a few takeout dinners. The same doctor was listed as an attendee at 23 of Freedman’s programs, prosecutors said, and Goldstein did cocaine in the bathroom at some of his.

The sales staff, prosecutors said, also offered other perks — including expensive dinners, tickets to sports events, Christmas parties, and on one occasion a $4,100 strip club visit for Goldstein and Schlifstein that included a private room, drinks and lap dances.

Freedman, 57, of Mt. Kisco, a pain specialist; Goldstein, 48, of New Rochelle, an osteopath; Schlifstein, 49, of Manhattan, a rehabilitation doctor; Voudouris, 47, of Long Island City, an oncologist; and Burducea, 41, of Little Neck, an anesthesiologist, were all released on $200,000 bond.

All were ordered to not prescribe controlled substances, except for Burducea, who would risk losing his job, his lawyer said. U.S. Magistrate Sarah Netburn ordered monitoring of his prescriptions. Insys did not return a call for comment.

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