Two prescription drug rings, allegedly responsible for the distribution of $2.1 million worth of Oxycodone in Northeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, have been broken up by agents from the Attorney General’s Bureau of Narcotics Investigation (BNI), federal officials and local police. In addition to the two rings operating in Pennsylvania, authorities in New York have dismantled the New York City arm of the operation.
Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane sad the investigation, known in Pennsylvania as “Operation Script King,” began in April 2012 and revealed two competing drug trafficking operations throughout Monroe County, which were led by Bryn Stevenson and John Romagnolo.
The investigation revealed that pharmacies in Monroe County were being inundated with Oxycodone prescriptions from the Itzamna Medical Center, 205 East 16th St., New York, NY. Dr. Hector Castro was identified by New York authorities as the founder, medical director and practitioner of internal medicine at the Itzamna Medical Center. Dr. Castro is facing charges today in New York for illegally selling Oxycodone prescriptions.
According to New York authorities, between September 2011 and February 2013, New Jersey pharmacies dispensed more than 500,000 Oxycodone pills based on more than 4,500 prescriptions that originated at Dr. Castro’s Manhattan office.
Agents from the Attorney General’s Office along with law enforcement authorities in New York identified Patricia Valera-Rodriguez, the office manager at Itzamna Medical Center, as Stevenson and Romagnolo’s main supplier of Oxycodone prescriptions.
Dr. Castro and Valera allegedly carried out two separate prescription-related criminal schemes. Together these schemes diverted hundreds of thousands of narcotic pills worth millions of dollars onto the black market.
“Doctors or other medical professionals who write unnecessary prescriptions and flood the streets with narcotics are fueling addictions and abuse,” Kane said. “They are criminals and will be treated as such.”
Competing Trafficking Rings in Pennsylvania
As the investigation unfolded, court-authorized wiretaps were approved in November 2012, which revealed the scope of the organizations and identified additional suppliers.
Intercepted conversations showed that Romagnolo and Stevenson both sent names and personal information of individuals to Valera-Rodriguez, who then wrote out prescriptions for Oxycodone in those names. The hard copy prescriptions were then allegedly sold for $500 apiece.
Agents said that Romagnolo, who was known as the “Script King,” traveled to New York and met Valera Rodriguez at least three times a week in order to obtain prescriptions.
Between March 2011 and December 2012, Romagnolo allegedly paid Valera-Rodriguez more than $30,000 for illegal prescriptions.
According to the criminal complaint, Stevenson preferred to have his prescriptions delivered to Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania by Valera-Rodriguez’s husband, Hector Rodriguez.
Once they had the prescriptions, Romagnolo and Stevenson allegedly employed numerous “runners” or “fillers,” who filled the scripts at multiple pharmacies. Once the scripts were filled, the pills were allegedly illegally consumed or sold for profit throughout Monroe and surrounding counties. The organization’s “fillers” allegedly paid cash, used private insurance, or medical assistance in order to pay for the prescriptions.
Kane said that Romagnolo and Stevenson, with the help of Valera-Rodriguez, allegedly kept careful track of when and where each prescription was filled, so they would not draw the attention of pharmacies or law enforcement.
Agents estimate that between March 2011 and March 2013 the organizations led by Romagnolo and Stevenson filled more than 500 prescriptions, using 100 different names. They are allegedly responsible for illegally obtaining more than 70,000 Oxycodone tablets with an estimated street value of $2.1 million.
According to agents, the demand for Oxycodone in Northeastern Pennsylvania was so high that many pharmacies ran out of the drug or refused to fill prescriptions.
Over the past two days agents executed a series of search warrants at the defendants’ homes, seizing more than two dozen hand guns and rifles, five ATV’s, a dirt bike, digital scales, numerous pill bottles, several prescriptions, and several thousand dollars in cash.
“Many of the guns seized during our searches were loaded and strategically placed, suggesting that the defendants were ready to resort to violence at a moment’s notice,” Kane said. “The common perception is that prescription drug abuse is not a violent issue. Based on the guns that we have seized, it is clear that is not the case.”
Kane noted that New York authorities charged Dr. Hector Castro, and Hector Rodriguez and Patricia Valera-Rodriguez for their involvement in the New York portion of the investigation, which they dubbed “Operation Cuba Libre.”
“This investigation demonstrates how effective collaboration between local, state, and federal law enforcement can be in targeting and dismantling criminal organizations,” Kane said. “I commend and want to sincerely thank every law enforcement official involved in this investigation for their efforts.”
The Attorney General’s Office was assisted with the investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) New York Field Division, the Special Narcotics Prosecutor for the City of New York, the New York City Police Department, Monroe County District Attorney E. David Christine, all the local police departments in Monroe County, the Pocono Mountain Regional Police Department, the Barrett Township Police Department, the Pocono Township Police Department, the Stroudsburg Area Regional Police Department, the Monroe County Probation Department, the Union County Police Department, and the Woodbridge Township Police Department.
The cases will be prosecuted in Monroe County by Deputy Attorney General Michael Dugan of the Attorney General’s Drug Strike Force Section.