By Karen Zautyk
A Nutley physician, linked to the illegal distribution of highly addictive painkillers, was sentenced last week to 11 years and four months in prison, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
According to authorities, the defendant, Dr. Michael Durante, 59, was involved in a conspiracy that put approximately 80,000 oxycodone tablets into street circulation between July 2009 and March 2011, selling prescriptions to patients engaged in drug trafficking.
In one incident (you can’t make this stuff up), the doctor even wrote a scrip to “replace” one that a dog allegedly ate.
Durante, an internal medicine specialist, lived in Montclair but had his practice in Nutley, and it was from the Nutley office that the narcotics network operated.
According to Fishman’s office, the street-level redistribution of the pills prescribed by Durante was accomplished primarily by two “crews,” one headed by Andre Domando, 49, of Belleville, and the other by Dennis Abato, 61, of Lakewood.
Domando and Abato each had a “stable of patients” whom they would bring to Durante’s medical practice in Nutley. The doctor would give them prescriptions for “large quantities of oxycodone that would ultimately be sold through the redistribution network,” Fishman’s statement said.
Durante was convicted in May of this year following a three-month trial in Federal Court in Newark. It took the jury less than two days of deliberations to return guilty verdicts on 16 of 17 counts against him: one count of conspiracy to distribute oxycodone and 15 counts of unlawful distribution of the drug.
Recordings played at trial illustrated Durante’s understanding of the illegal distribution he facilitated, Fishman’s office noted: “For example, in a February 2011 recording, Durante said he knew Domando was reselling the prescriptions for a large profit, stating, ‘I just know because my friend does the same thing you do. He sells these for $1,000 to $1,200 a bottle.’”
Durante, referring to prescriptions he provided to Domando over the previous two weeks then reportedly stated, “You should have $6,000 in your pocket,’ adding, “I know what people do with these things. You gotta have at leasttwelve, fifteen thousand dollars a month of income here.”
The doctor was also captured on tape accepting $300 from Domando in exchange for prescriptions, as well as $100 for an extra prescription sold to an undercover agent. At trial, a witness testified that he delivered envelopes of cash to Durante in exchange for extra prescriptions.
Additionally, Durante falsified medical records in the files of the patients who received the oxycodone prescriptions. For example, the doctor falsely documented physical exams, including blood pressure and heart rates, of a patient who was in Florida at the time of Durante’s purported exam. Durante repeatedly omitted from patients’ progress notes many of the additional prescriptions he had sold, or falsely wrote that prescriptions had been provided to replace lost prescriptions — including one note that a dog may have eaten a replacement scrip provided to Domando. Durante was sentenced Dec. 17 in Newark Federal Court by U.S. District Judge Stanley Chesler, who had presided over the doctor’s trial.
In addition to the prison term, Chesler sentenced Durante to three years of supervised release and ordered him to pay $629,461 in restitution. Durante is also required to pay a $4,000 fine.
In November, Chesler sentenced Domando to 48 months in prison. Abato awaits sentencing.
Fishman credited the New Jersey DEA Tactical Diversion Squad, made up of DEA special agents, diversion investigators and intelligence analysts; FBI and IRS-Criminal Investigation special agents; and law enforcement officers from the Essex County Sheriff’s Department and the Elizabeth, Clinton Township (Hunterdon County), Toms River and Newark Police Departments with the investigation.