As Rx Abuse Rises, A.G. Schneiderman Announces Prison Sentence For Woman Who Forged More Than 250 Painkiller Prescriptions
Ringleader Sentenced To 4 – 8 Years In Prison And Ordered To Pay $200,000 To The State
A.G. Schneiderman’s I-STOP Plan Would Have Stopped This Scheme In Its Tracks
Schneiderman: Today’s Sentencing Is A Step Forward In Stemming The Growing Prescription Drug Epidemic
NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today secured prison time for the ringleader of an illegal prescription drug operation who forged more than 250 prescriptions for narcotics, including addictive painkillers like OxyContin and Roxicodone. Bronx resident Suzanne Benizio, who pleaded guilty to two counts of Forgery in the Second Degree in December 2011, will receive consecutive sentences totaling four to eight years in state prison. In addition to incarceration, Benizio will be ordered to repay the New York State Medicaid program over $200,000.
In order to prevent crimes like these from happening in the future, Attorney General Schneiderman has proposed a plan to rein in the state’s prescription drug epidemic. Schneiderman’s Internet System for Tracking Overprescribing (I-STOP) legislation connects doctors and pharmacists to a real-time, online database that tracks the prescribing and dispensing of frequently abused controlled substances. Had I-STOP been in place, it would have invalidated Benizio’s forged prescriptions and prevented this supply of addictive painkillers from reaching communities across the state.
“We have shut down a reckless scheme that supplied illegal prescription drugs at the taxpayers’ expense, and now is the time for justice and accountability,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “While these cases are central to our work to eliminate Medicaid fraud and abuse – they alone will not solve our state’s prescription drug epidemic. That’s why I’ve proposed I-STOP, which would block any effort to illegally obtain prescription drugs before they’re dispensed and distributed. The time to act is now.”
Earlier today, Supreme Court Acting Justice Joseph J. Dawson sentenced Benizio, who forged counterfeit prescriptions created on paper stolen from New York City-area hospitals, prescriptions that were used in 20 counties throughout New York State.
Between 2009 and 2011, Benizio created more than 250 forged prescriptions for OxyContin and Roxicodone, both strong painkillers. She wrote the prescriptions by hand, or created them using a computer, on prescription paper stolen from doctors and hospitals in the New York City area. At the time of her arrest in March, Benizio possessed enough prescription paper to create an additional 1,500 prescriptions. She also possessed a special printer needed to process the thermal prescription paper the state uses as a security measure.
The scope and reach of Benizio’s profit-making operation was significant. As the ringleader, she worked with multiple co-conspirators to create prescriptions in the names of real Medicaid recipients. Working with another group of co-conspirators, she then arranged for the forged prescriptions to be filled at pharmacies throughout the state. The Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit identified and tracked these forgeries to pharmacies in 20 different counties, in locations stretching from Montauk to Fort Ticonderoga.
Not only did Benizio flood the state with more than 20,000 frequently-abused substances, she paid for them with taxpayer money. Ms. Benizio misappropriated numerous Medicaid cards that were then used to create the forged prescriptions. The cards were subsequently presented to the pharmacies that filled the prescriptions. All told, the New York State Medicaid program paid more than $200,000 to fill the prescriptions in question.
Benizio’s forgery operation is the very crime Attorney General Schneiderman has targeted with I-STOP. The system requires doctors, prior to prescribing certain controlled substances, to check a database to ensure that the prescription is medically necessary and not simply an effort to access narcotics. Pharmacists are then required to check the database and confirm that prescriptions were made to the patient for those controlled substances to prevent the filling of forged or ill-gotten prescriptions.
Had the system been in place, pharmacists would have had the resources needed to expose the counterfeit prescriptions. The bill is sponsored by Assemblyman Michael Cusick (D – Staten Island) and State Senator Andrew J. Lanza (R – Staten Island), and has over 33 co-sponsors in the Senate and 47 co-sponsors in the Assembly.
According to the Federal Office of National Drug Control Policy, prescription drug abuse is the country’s second most prevalent illegal drug problem. New York State ranks 11th in the nation for admissions to chemical dependence programs for abuse of opioids other than heroin. At the same time, prescriptions for oxycodone have increased an astonishing 82 percent since 2007.
The criminal prosecution was handled by Special Assistant Attorney General Jacob Bergman under the supervision of Deputy Regional Director Christopher M. Shaw and Special Deputy Attorney General Monica Hickey-Martin. Senior Special Investigator Thomas Dowd and Associate Special Auditor Shoma Howard assisted in the investigation and prosecution.
More information about the Attorney General’s I-STOP plan is available online at: Click Here