TRENTON, N.J. – Brian R. Crowell, the Special Agent in Charge of the New Jersey Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Paul J. Fishman, the United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey, announced two physicians who allegedly wrote illegal prescriptions for oxycodone were arrested this morning, along with a number of others, on federal charges that they participated in a conspiracy to illegally distribute the medication.
Dr. Jacqueline Lopresti, 50, of Fair Haven, N.J., and Dr. Hassan Lahham, 53, of New York, are charged in a federal criminal Complaint along with 20 other defendants with conspiracy to possess and distribute oxycodone. One of those co-defendants, Christopher Erwin, 47, of Barnegat, N.J., is a purported landscaper who served as leader of the drug trafficking organization.
Of the 22 defendants charged, 16 were arrested this morning by members of the DEA’s Tactical Diversion Squad. The defendants arrested today are expected to appear this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Tonianne J. Bongiovanni in Trenton federal court. All the charged defendants are identified in a chart appended to this release.
According to the Complaints unsealed today:
Oxycodone, the active ingredient in brand name pills such as Oxycontin, Roxicodone and Percocet, is a Schedule II controlled substance + meaning that it has a high potential for abuse, a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions, and abuse of the drug may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.
Since at least as early as January 2009, and continuing for at least two years, Lopresti and Lahham issued prescriptions to co conspirators who received the prescriptions, at the direction of Erwin and others, for drugs containing oxycodone outside the usual course of medical practice and not for any legitimate medical purpose. The prescriptions were filled at various pharmacies located in and around Monmouth, Ocean, and Atlantic Counties, and the defendants then sold and redistributed the pills.
Lopresti and Lahham wrote the prescriptions in exchange for cash payments from Erwin and others, knowing that the pills were to be redistributed.
Erwin and others, with the knowledge of Lopresti and Lathham, employed customers to pose as patients and others to serve as runners to transport customers to fill the prescriptions at numerous pharmacies in an attempt to avoid detection. Erwin and others paid customers and runners either in cash or with a portion of the oxycodone tablets that were obtained from the pharmacies, then sold the remaining tablets at a profit.
U.S. Attorney Fishman stated: “Prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in the country. It is particularly troubling to find doctors so complicit in this epidemic. We trust our doctors to heal our bodies, not poison our communities. We can’t and we shouldn’t put up with those we count on for our well being to make a fast buck peddling pills.”
Brian R. Crowell, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA New Jersey Division, stated, “Our commitment to the citizens of New Jersey is to protect them from legal controlled substances which help people daily but may fall into the illicit market for drug traffickers. Let us be perfectly clear: everyone arrested today is an alleged drug trafficker. We will not tolerate or accept this illegal behavior, and we will bring justice to all that condone this type of practice.”
The count with which the defendants are charged carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
U.S. Attorney Fishman thanked special agents of the DEA in New Jersey, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Brian R. Crowell, and the various police departments which have officers assigned to the New Jersey DEA Tactical Diversion Squad. He also thanked the law enforcement partner agencies that effected the arrests, including the U.S. Marshals Service; U.S. Food & Drug Administration; Cumberland, Monmouth, and Ocean County Prosecutor’s Offices; New Jersey State Police; Ocean County Sherriff’s Office; Barnegat, Lacey Township, Little Egg Harbor, Little Silver, Seaside Heights, Toms River, and Trenton Police Departments; and the Ocean County Department of Corrections.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Marasco of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division in Trenton.
The charges and allegations contained in the Complaints are merely accusations, and the defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.