Queens Pharmacist Pleads Guilty to Illegally Distributing Oxycodone and Filing False Tax Returns
BROOKLYN – Daniel E. Russo pleaded guilty today in federal court in Brooklyn to conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute oxycodone, distribution and possession of oxycodone, and nine counts of filing false personal and corporate tax returns. The proceeding was held before United States District Judge Dora L. Irizarry. When sentenced, Russo faces up to 20 years’ imprisonment for each of the drug counts and up to three years’ imprisonment for each of the tax counts.
Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Stuart M. Goldberg, Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Tax Division, Frank A. Tarentino III, Special Agent in Charge, Drug Enforcement Administration, New York Division (DEA), and Thomas Fattorusso, Special Agent-in-Charge, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, New York (IRS-CI), announced the guilty plea.
“Russo was a drug dealer in a white coat,” stated United States Attorney Peace. “He abused his pharmacy license and the trust placed in him by the community to illegally distribute enormous amounts of oxycodone, spreading misery in the community and fueling addiction, all to enrich himself. This Office will continue working with federal and local law enforcement partners to investigate and prosecute medical professionals who illegally deal dangerous drugs with the same vigor as those who distribute drugs on the street.”
“This plea solidifies the fact that Russo blatantly ignored his role as a medical practitioner in order to line his pockets with cash,” stated DEA Special Agent in Charge Tarentino. “Through this illicit scheme, Russo enabled opioid addiction and misuse throughout Queens and Long Island communities. The DEA Long Island District Office-Tactical Diversion Squad, HHS-OIG, IRS, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office Eastern District of New York’s partnership exemplifies how investigations like this successfully arrest and prosecute individuals in positions that threaten public safety.”
“At the same time Daniel Russo was illegally peddling oxycodone out of his pharmacy, he was pocketing – and not paying taxes on – income from those sales and others in his business,” stated Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Goldberg. “Everyone is required to pay their fair share of taxes, whether they make their money legitimately or through criminal activity.”
“Instead of acting within the pharmacist code of ethics to act with integrity, Russo chose to use his position to commit criminal acts. He chose to distribute highly addictive drugs to the community he served, then failed to report and pay taxes on the proceeds of his illicit sales. Today, Russo chose to face the consequences of his actions—a good reminder that just like Al Capone, even criminals need to pay their taxes,” stated IRS-CI Special Agent-in-Charge Fattorusso.
As set forth in the indictment, court filings and in court this morning, Russo owned and operated Russo’s Pharmacy in Far Rockaway, Queens. Between March 2011 and June 2014, Russo conspired with others, including medical professionals and employees, to fill fraudulent prescriptions for oxycodone and dispense thousands of oxycodone pills in return for hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash. Over the course of the conspiracy, Russo’s co-conspirators delivered hundreds of fraudulent oxycodone prescriptions to Russo’s Pharmacy and would then retrieve the filled prescriptions—written out in various patients’ names—so that they could be dispensed elsewhere. Russo accepted payment mostly in cash for the prescriptions. Russo then hid the proceeds from the scheme and filed false corporate income tax returns for his pharmacy for the years 2013 through 2016, omitting the illegal proceeds. Russo also filed false individual income tax returns for the years 2012 through 2016. In total, Russo failed to report over $1 million in earnings, much of it generated from his oxycodone distribution scheme.
More than a dozen physicians for whom Russo filled prescriptions have since been convicted of crimes related to the distribution of oxycodone.
The government’s investigation was led by the DEA’s Long Island Tactical Diversion Squad, comprising agents and officers of the DEA, Nassau County Police Department, Suffolk County Police Department, Port Washington Police Department and Rockville Centre Police Department. The DEA Tactical Diversion Squad also worked in conjunction with officers and agents of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General and New York City Department of Investigation.
This case is the latest in a series of federal prosecutions by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York as part of the Prescription Drug Initiative. In January 2012, this Office and the DEA, in conjunction with the five District Attorneys in this district, the Nassau and Suffolk County Police Departments, the New York City Police Department, the New York State Police and other key federal, state and local government partners launched the initiative to mount a comprehensive response to what the United States Department of Health and Human Services Center for Disease Control and Preventions called an epidemic increase in the abuse of so-called opioid analgesics. To date, the initiative has brought over 160 federal and local criminal prosecutions including the prosecution of 20 health care professionals; taken civil enforcement actions against a hospital, a pharmacy and pharmacy chain; removed prescription authority from numerous rogue doctors and expanded information-sharing among enforcement agencies to better target and pursue drug traffickers. The initiative also is involved in an extensive community outreach program to address the abuse of pharmaceuticals.
The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Francisco J. Navarro, Nomi D. Berenson and Andrew D. Wang and Trial Attorney Michael C. Vasiliadis of the Tax Division.
DANIEL E. RUSSO
Cedarhurst, New York
E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 20-CR-23 (DLI)