OxyContin Network Believed Extensive
Federal Probe Nets 41 Convictions
By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 25, 2003; Page A06
Federal prosecutors yesterday outlined for the first time the scope of their
investigation into the illegal distribution of OxyContin, writing in court
papers that they have already snared 41 dealers in an ongoing probe of
doctors, pharmacists and patients who formed a conspiracy to sell the drugs
in a black market.
In court documents associated with pleas and sentencing hearings in U.S.
District Court in Alexandria, prosecutors said that "Operation Cotton Candy"
has been focusing on 60 to 80 people in Northern Virginia, most notably two
pain doctors who are "major targets" of the investigation. A federal
organized crime and drug enforcement task force has been working for more
than two years to trace the network of dealers, who prosecutors claim have
received prescriptions for "obscene" amounts of the painkiller drug from the
Prosecutors wrote that many of the 41 dealers were patients or otherwise
affiliated with the two doctors and their separate offices in McLean and
Centreville. The doctors have previously been identified in court papers as
William E. Hurwitz and Joseph K. Statkus. Both have acknowledged that they
are targets of the investigation but have denied any wrongdoing.
Hurwitz and Statkus would not comment yesterday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gene Rossi wrote in the papers that the doctors were
prescribing pills after "perfunctory exams" and would "rubber stamp and
oftentimes encourage the patients' insatiable demand for Oxy and other
The patients would then fill their prescriptions at pharmacies and sell the
pills or hand them over to "recruiters and organizers" for later sale at
huge markups. Prosecutors said the pills were often taken to southwest
Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky, where some conspirators have likened the
market among rural addicts to "selling water in the desert," the court
OxyContin is a form of synthetic morphine that has been called a miracle
drug for cancer patients and others with intractable pain. A long-acting,
FDA-approved time-release pill, it enables some bedridden patients to return
to their normal lives. But its potency has made it alluring to abusers, who
crush it and snort it or inject it for a heroin-like high.
The documents released yesterday show that the federal grand jury is still
hearing testimony and is examining about five patients "who died from
receiving and taking obscene amounts of Oxy and other pills."
The information became public in documents relating to a sentencing hearing
yesterday for Rita Faye Carlin, a former patient of one of the doctors, and
at a plea and sentencing hearing for Kelly Kathleen Latimer, a former Prince
William County prosecutor and defense attorney who was a patient of both
Latimer was sentenced to 50 months in federal prison for taking part in a
conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine and for obstructing justice and
tampering with a federal witness. Latimer traded her pain medications to a
friend in exchange for crack they shared.
"I know what I've done is wrong and that I've made a complete mess of my
life," Latimer said in court.
Rossi called the case a "Greek tragedy," while Judge Leonard E. Wexler
called it one of the most mind-boggling cases he has seen: "You're a lady
who had the ability, had the brains, had the background, had the family
background . . . and did what [you] damned pleased."
Latimer's case led, in part, to the resignation of another Prince William
County prosecutor. John V. Notarianni resigned in April after FBI agents
raided his office and took his computer as part of the investigation.
Federal prosecutors said in court that a former Prince William prosecutor
helped Latimer get her husband to lie about where Latimer had been living
after her release on bond. Though they did not name Notarianni, Latimer's
husband, Merle Snider, said in interviews that he signed a document he knew
was false when Notarianni asked him to.
Rossi said in court that Latimer called her husband and a "known
conspirator" from the Alexandria jail April 9 to dictate a letter, aimed at
influencing the court, that Latimer knew was misleading. Snider said in
interviews that Notarianni met him in a church parking lot in Manassas on
April 10, handed him a pen and urged him to sign the letter.
"I was looking at it thinking . . . 'He handles cases and puts people's
lives on the line, and he knew it was a lie,' " Snider said in an April
interview. "It was weird, because we both knew it was a lie."
The letter never made it into court files because Latimer's attorney
wouldn't accept it. The attorney then recused himself.
Notarianni, who is now a defense attorney, has not been charged with a
crime. Prosecutors said yesterday in court that Snider is scheduled to plead
guilty in August to obstruction charges, and the U.S. attorney's office is
weighing charges against the other known conspirator. Notarianni did not
return calls to his office and his Manassas home yesterday.
Carlin was sentenced to 14 months in prison. Prosecutors said she has been
helpful in the investigation and that she has testified before the