Bloomfield doctor charged as police crack drug ring



http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/jersey/index.ssf?/base/news-1/11273012439730.xml&coll=1

September 20, 2005 - Federal agents yesterday charged a Bloomfield doctor with taking tens of thousands of dollars in cash kickbacks to write bogus prescriptions for OxyContin and other narcotics that ended up sold on the streets.

The doctor, Joan Jaszczult, 44, was arrested at her office along Belleville Avenue by agents from the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Nine other suspects, accused of getting the prescriptions filled then reselling the drugs, were rounded up at their homes in Essex, Morris and Ocean counties. Jaszczult, a licensed doctor in New Jersey since 1989 who recently moved her practice from Belleville, had no prior criminal history or clear ties to her co-defendants.

Even as she sat, handcuffed, with them in court yesterday, she seemed to stand out: a willowy blond wearing soft makeup and a black ruffled, spaghetti-strap blouse alongside women in sweat pants and T-shirts and behind men with tattoos and rap sheets.

Authorities believe the ring operated for several years, flooding thousands of illegal and deadly narcotics onto the black market, where they were sold as recreational drugs, sometimes at more than twice market price.

For about six months, agents focused on the doctor and a small list of suspicious patients who visited her office. During that span, two confidential sources and an undercover agent paid Jaszczult tens of thousands of dollars to issue dozens of prescriptions, mostly for OxyContin.

Michael Pasterchick Jr., the special agent in charge of the DEA's Newark division, said the agency would revoke Jaszczult's authority to write prescriptions and recommend that state authorities suspend her license. He said she was no different from a cartel kingpin who supplies street dealers.

"We don't target doctors -- we target people who are trafficking drugs or facilitating trafficking," he said. "This person was making prescriptions available like they were memo pads."

Jaszczult couldn't be reached for comment, but her attorney, Robert Bianci, said, "We plan to fully and aggressively attack these charges."

The charges stem from an ongoing initiative to crack down on organized crime's inroads in the lucrative pharmaceutical industry. Last year, agents in New Jersey nabbed nearly two dozen people who allegedly trafficked tens of millions of dollars in prescription drugs such as the cholesterol-lowering Lipitor and Clarinex, an allergy medicine.

Besides Jaszczult, agents yesterday arrested James Messina, 24, of Nutley, who allegedly arranged most of the prescription transactions with the doctor, and his girlfriend, Allesandra Hammed, 19, of East Hanover.

The other defendants include Beachwood residents Malissa Bucca, 30, Brian Davis, 28, and Arthur "Artie" Muratovic, 38; Michael "Bubs" Sargese, 28, of Bloomfield; Dawn Terrazino, 46, of Newark; and Belleville residents Denise Fiumefreddo, 46, and Frank Constantino, 47.

Each defendant was charged with conspiracy or possession with intent to sell illegal narcotics, a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Romankow.

Muratovic, Davis and Messina were denied bail. Romankow said all were threats to flee: The first two have extensive criminal records, he said, while Messina had no job or community ties. U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Wigenton in Newark scheduled a detention hearing for tomorrow.

A complaint filed in federal court by Brian Callanan, a Bergen County officer assigned to the DEA, said the case began in March after a source told investigators the doctor was selling prescriptions.

Over the next few months, two informants and an undercover agent bought nearly 100 prescriptions for narcotic painkillers from Jaszczult. At times, she issued the prescriptions under fake names, and once she "coached" one of the informants to say he needed the medication for back pain, according to the complaint.

Most of the prescriptions were for OxyContin, a pain reliever that has become a popular recreational drug in recent years. Its primary ingredient is oxycodone, an intense narcotic sometimes compared with morphine, and users are known to crush and snort the pills. The buyers also allegedly received Xanax, Percocet and other drugs.

The confidential sources also bought the drugs directly from Messina at times, the complaint said. During one five-day span in late August, the source allegedly paid Messina nearly $46,000 for about 1,300 pills. Agents also observed the other defendants getting prescriptions from the doctor, then having them filled at area pharmacies.

Authorities said more arrests are likely. "Today's arrests may be a hard pill to swallow for the individuals charged, but they are a welcome remedy for the citizens of New Jersey," said Leslie Wiser, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Newark division. John P. Martin covers federal courts and law enforcement. He may be reached at (973) 622-3405 or at [email protected]






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