Dr. Hector Castro had a secret.
For a certain price, according to the authorities, he would write prescriptions for oxycodone, a powerful painkiller, even if the “patient” never stepped foot in his office at the Itzamna Medical Center in the Gramercy neighborhood in Lower Manhattan. On an average day, he would write 11 fraudulent prescriptions and charge $125 per prescription, the authorities said on Thursday.
Dr. Castro’s office assistant, Patricia Valera, also had a secret.
Unbeknown to the doctor, she was handing out sham prescriptions too, selling each prescription for $500.
“She was doing her boss one better,” Bridget G. Brennan, chief of New York City’s Special Narcotics Prosecutor’s Office, said at a news conference. “Smart businesswoman I guess.”
On Thursday, both had their secrets revealed when the authorities announced their arrests for illegally selling painkillers as part of a $10 million operation that involved dozens of people throughout the Northeast.
A total of 49 people were arrested in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania on Thursday after a 15-month investigation involving both federal and local authorities.
Lawyers for Dr. Castro and Ms. Valera did not return phone messages seeking comment.
The investigation began in December 2011, after a young man overdosed on oxycodone and was found dead in his home in Woodbridge, N.J.
A detective found a bottle of oxycodone at the home that had been prescribed by Dr. Castro one day before the man died.
The authorities said Dr. Castro’s name was familiar to pharmacists in New Jersey.
From September 2011 to last month, officials said, pharmacies in the state dispensed about half a million oxycodone pills based on more than 4,500 prescriptions issued out of his office.
In August 2012, after spending months conducting surveillance and interviews, an undercover officer successfully infiltrated a New Jersey drug trafficking organization and began making visits to Dr. Castro’s Gramercy office on behalf of the drug organization, the authorities said.
Dr. Castro asked the undercover agent for an M.R.I. exam, ostensibly to justify the need for painkiller, but did not question the fact that the male undercover agent provided him with a female’s imaging.
The doctor accepted a cash payment for the prescription in the office, the authorities said. While officials said Dr. Castro had flooded New Jersey with thousands of fake prescriptions, he was charged only with illegally selling 39 prescriptions, including 28 sold to the undercover officer since it would not be feasible to investigate every prescription.
Dr. Castro was arrested on Tuesday morning at his home at 540 West 52nd Street, where the authorities seized $20,000 in cash.
Shortly after the authorities started an investigation into Dr. Castro, they received information that prescriptions from his office were also flooding a rural area in Pennsylvania in the Poconos.
“The demand for oxycodone became so pronounced in this area that normal patients cannot get their prescriptions filled,” Ms. Brennan said in an interview.
It quickly became clear, according to the authorities, that it was not Dr. Castro selling the prescriptions in Pennsylvania, but rather the office manager, Ms. Valera — who was also known by her nickname, Kardashian.
She was selling prescriptions to two competing drug rings and charging a premium of $500, which included delivery from her husband, Hector Rodriguez, who was also arrested this week.
The street value of oxycodone, according to the authorities, is $20 to $30 per pill.
An average prescription yields 120 pills and is worth about $2,400 on the street.
Ms. Valera and her husband were arrested at their Bronx home on Tuesday morning and agents seized a loaded handgun, about $8,000 cash and blank prescription sheets belonging to Dr. Castro and his brother, who is also a doctor.
His brother, who helped found the Gramercy Park clinic, is not accused of any wrongdoing.
NYTimes March 29th, 2013
By MARC SANTORA
Randy Leonard contributed reporting.