Queens Pharmacist Sentenced to 60 Months in Prison for Illegally Distributing Oxycodone and Filing False Tax Returns
BROOKLYN, N.Y. - Today, Daniel E. Russo was sentenced to 60 months in prison by United States District Judge Dora L. Irizarry for 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. In addition to the terms of imprisonment, Judge Irizarry ordered Russo to serve three years of supervised release. Immediately prior to the sentencing, the defendant paid over $400,000 in restitution. Russo pleaded guilty in February 2023.
Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, David A. Hubbert, 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, and Thomas Fattorusso, Special Agent-in-Charge, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, New York, announced the charges.
“From pharmacist to pill pusher, Daniel Russo betrayed his years of medical training to pocket dirty money in return for illegally selling enormous amounts of oxycodone, which was invariably later sold on the streets,” stated United States Attorney Peace. “Today’s sentence sends a message to all would-be drug dealers, especially healthcare professionals, that the illegal distribution of drugs will be punished.”
DEA Special Agent in Charge Frank Tarentino said “Through today’s sentencing and prior plea, it is apparent that Daniel Russo will spend the next five years contemplating his ill-fated decision to use his business to illegally distribute prescription medication while enabling opioid addiction throughout New York. The investigation and prosecution meticulously brought to justice Russo’s tax fraud and his role in a major drug trafficking conspiracy. I commend our partners in the DEA’s Long Island Division Office Tactical Diversion Squad, the IRS-CI New York, and the US Attorney’s Office Eastern District of New York for their diligent work.”
“Russo distributed highly addictive drugs to the community he served, completely disregarding his sworn code of ethics as a pharmacist. And while using his position to commit criminal acts, he then failed to report and pay taxes on the proceeds of his illicit sales. It is with strong law enforcement partnerships that we were able to ensure Russo is now facing justice for his actions,” stated IRS-CI Special Agent-in-Charge Fattorusso.
As set forth in the indictment, court filings and during court proceedings, 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. Oxycodone illegally distributed by Russo led to at least one non-fatal overdose. 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. As a result, Russo fraudulently underreported his tax obligations on those earnings by over $400,000.
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 Prevention 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 handled by the Office’s International Narcotics and Money Laundering Section. Assistant United States Attorneys Francisco J. Navarro, Nomi D. Berenson and Andrew D. Wang and Trial Attorney Michael C. Vasiliadis of the Tax Division are in charge of the prosecution.