Doctor who 'helped fuel' borough drug crisis sentenced in pill-mill scheme
April 7, 2017
BY FRANK DONNELLY
A doctor at the center of an oxycodone conspiracy whose false prescribing of the narcotic, a justice said, helped fuel the drug crisis on staten island, was sentenced friday, under a plea agreement, to six months in jail and five years' probation.
Dr. Mihir Bhatt, a New Jersey resident with offices on the South and West shores, previously forfeited $2 million to authorities, his lawyer told the court.
Bhatt was part of a scheme involving a chiropractor and pharmacist in which 1.8 million oxycodone pills were sold to longshoremen on Staten Island and in Brooklyn and to other people, authorities said.
Bhatt was among nine defendants arrested in December 2013 and charged in the plot, according to information released by then-District Attorney Daniel Donovan.
Prosecutors said Bhatt would see his patients at the New York City Wellness Center at 4870 Hylan Blvd., Annadale, which chiropractor Thomas E. Dinardo owned and operated, and he'd also work out of medical offices at 456 Arlene St., Graniteville, and 3733 Richmond Ave., Eltingville.
The physician also dispensed prescriptions from his home in Edison, N.J., yet tell insurance companies he was prescribing from one of his medical offices, prosecutors said.
The longshoremen indicted in the scheme were assigned to either Brooklyn Cruise Terminal or the New York Container Terminal in Mariners Harbor, said prosecutors.
A co-defendant, Steven John Alcaras, who worked at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, arranged prescription pickups, and would tell the doctor and chiropractor which longshoremen were suitable patients, prosecutors said.
He'd also coordinate which longshoremen needed bogus medical exams, or, often doctor's notes to prevent them from losing their jobs through "decasualization" because they hadn't put in enough days at work, prosecutors said.
The conspirators enlisted the help of Rita Patel, who was in charge of Shayona Pharmacy in Perth Amboy, N.J., to fill the doctor's scripts when pharmacies on the Island rejected them, said prosecutors.
Dinardo and Alacaras each previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy and were sentenced, respectively, to a one-year conditional discharge and three years' probation.
Patel previously pleaded guilty to attempted criminal sale of prescription or controlled substances and was sentenced to time served.
In October, Bhatt pleaded guilty in state Supreme Court, St. George, to felony counts of insurance fraud, conspiracy and offering a false instrument for filing. In doing so, he admitted to committing insurance fraud between January 2012 and August 2013, while acting in concert with DiNardo and Alcaras and others and had conspired with Patel and Shayona Pharmacy to sell controlled substances in violation of the law between March 2012 and November 2013.
Bhatt also admitted to acting together with DiNardo, Alcaras and others on April 26, 2013, in providing false information to the Waterfront Commission on exams he conducted.
The bespectacled Bhatt, who was garbed Friday in a black jacket and black sweatpants, declined to make a statement before Justice Mario F. Mattei imposed sentence.
However, his lawyer, Steven Kessler told the judge his client has no prior criminal record and had taken "full responsibility" for his actions.
Kessler asked Mattei if reducing the previously agreed-upon sentence was possible, but the judge said no, considering "the harm (Bhatt) caused the people of Staten Island."
"His actions in prescribing these pills falsely to so many people ... helped fuel the heroin crisis on Staten Island," said Mattei.
The judge said many people addicted to oxycodone switched to heroin when authorities began cracking down on oxycodone abusers.
In a statement released after Bhatt's plea, District Attorney Michael E. McMahon called his conviction "fair and just."
"This doctor abused his medical license in order to steal from insurance companies and fraudulently dispense narcotic drugs under the guise of a pain management enterprise," said the D.A.
Assistant District Attorneys Jeffrey Curiale and Gregg Brown prosecuted the case.