Friday, October 21, 2016

Dr. Mihir Bhatt, pleads guilty to fraud, conspiracy; was part of a scheme in which 1.8 million oxycodone pills were sold to longshoremen on Staten Island and in Brooklyn

South Shore doctor at top of prescription drug scheme pleads guilty to fraud, conspiracy

  Staten Island prescription drug ring brought down by D.A. investigation
By Frank Donnelly |
 updated October 20, 2016 at 7:31 PM

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- The doctor at the center of an oxycodone conspiracy allegedly involving longshoremen, a chiropractor and a pharmacist, pleaded guilty Thursday to fraud and other charges.

Dr. Mihir Bhatt, was part of a scheme in which 1.8 million oxycodone pills were sold to longshoremen on Staten Island and in Brooklyn and to other people, authorities said.

Bhatt was among nine defendants arrested in December 2013 and charged in the plot.

Prosecutors said Bhatt would see his patients at the New York City Wellness Center at 4870 Hylan Blvd., Annadale, which chiropractor Thomas E. Dinardo owned and operated, and he'd also work out of medical offices at 456 Arlene St., Graniteville, and 3733 Richmond Ave., Eltingville.

The physician also dispensed prescriptions from his home in Edison, N.J., yet tell insurance companies he was prescribing from one of his medical offices, prosecutors said.

The longshoremen indicted in the scheme were assigned to either Brooklyn Cruise Terminal or the New York Container Terminal in Mariners Harbor, said prosecutors.

A co-defendant, Steven John Alcaras, who worked at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, arranged prescription pickups, and would tell the doctor and chiropractor which longshoremen were suitable patients, prosecutors said.

He'd also coordinate which longshoremen needed bogus medical exams, or, often doctor's notes to prevent them from losing their jobs through "decasualization" because they hadn't put in enough days at work, prosecutors said.

The conspirators enlisted the help of Rita Patel, who was in charge of Shayona Pharmacy in Perth Amboy, N.J., to fill the doctor's scripts when pharmacies on the Island rejected them, said prosecutors.

Bhatt pleaded guilty in state Supreme Court, St. George, to felony counts of insurance fraud, conspiracy and offering a false instrument for filing.

In doing so, he admitted to committing insurance fraud between January 2012 and August 2013, while acting in concert with DiNardo and Alcaras and others and had conspired with Patel and Shayona Pharmacy to sell controlled substances in violation of the law between March 2012 and November 2013.

Bhatt also admitted to acting together with DiNardo, Alcaras and others on April 26, 2013, in providing false information to the Waterfront Commission on exams he conducted.

In exchange for his pleas, which satisfy all charges brought against him in three indictments, Bhatt will be sentenced Dec. 15 to six months in jail and five years' probation.

He must also forfeit $2 million, and his medical license will be revoked, prosecutors said.

Online state Health Department records show Bhatt was licensed in New York in July 1995 and has no disciplinary history.

Alcaras and DiNardo's criminal cases are pending in state Supreme Court, St. George.

In a statement, District Attorney Michael E. McMahon called Bhatt's conviction "fair and just."

"As Staten Island was facing a deadly opioid epidemic, Dr. Mihir Bhatt chose to profit off those suffering from addiction rather than actually help patients get better," said McMahon. "This doctor abused his medical license in order to steal from insurance companies and fraudulently dispense narcotic drugs under the guise of a pain management enterprise."

In addition, McMahon praised Assistant District Attorneys Jeffrey Curiale and Gregg Brown for their work on the case.

Also on Thursday, Justice Mario F. Mattei ordered a bench warrant for Patel, who failed to appear in court.

Her lawyer, Ronald Rubinstein, told the judge she had informed him Wednesday night she was being treated for anxiety issues.

However, Mattei said Patel made no such claim when she was in court three days earlier on Monday or any time previously. He noted the case has been on the docket for almost three years with numerous adjournments, and the defendants were recently told it would be sent out for trial if it wasn't resolved.

"I find this very suspicious," Mattei said of Patel's claim. "I think she's avoiding taking the plea or going to trial."