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Florida pain doctors convicted of money laundering

By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) - A jury acquitted two South Florida doctors of causing the deaths of patients who overdosed on pain medication, but convicted them of money laundering for their role in a conspiracy involving a chain of pain clinics.

The two doctors, Cynthia Cadet, 43, a retired U.S. Air Force major, and Joseph Castronuovo, 74, faced life in prison and fines up to $2 million each for their role at the clinics. Seven of Cadet's patients and two of Castronuovo's patients died of drug overdoses.

The doctors could still face up to 10 years in jail for the money laundering charges as well as forfeiture of the money made while working at the clinics, $1.2 million in Cadet's case and $164,000 in Castronuovo's case.

The jury took 20 hours to reach their verdict on Tuesday. It capped a four-year operation targeting a string of South Florida pain clinics nicknamed "Oxy Alley" that resulted in racketeering charges against 32 people in 2010.

Defense lawyers argued both doctors were unaware of the conspiracy and were practicing medicine in line with state prescribed standards, which allows licensed physicians to distribute opioid pain pills without fear of punishment.

"There was not a single piece of evidence at this trial that showed she knew of any conspiracy," said Michael D. Weinstein, Cadet's attorney.

"It's an inconsistent verdict when you're saying to the judge, we're finding her not guilty, yet on the proceeds of the conspiracy, she's guilty of that."

Weinstein said the government case was flawed because Florida didn't have any laws in place or any prescription pill monitoring program at the time of the alleged conspiracy.

Prosecutors accused Cadet and Castronuovo of being "drug dealers in white coats" who abandoned their medical ethics. Addicts and distributors traveled in some cases more than 1,000 miles to the South Florida clinics where the two doctors worked. They paid for visits in cash to be prescribed hundreds of pills at a time.

The two operations where the doctors worked disbursed more than 20 million oxycodone tablets between 2008 and 2010, earning about $40 million, according to prosecutors.

The clinic owner, Christopher George, is serving more than 17 years in prison and his brother and co-owner Jeffrey George is serving more than 15. Both testified on the government's behalf.

Florida once had 90 of the top 100 oxycodone-purchasing physicians in the nation and 53 of the top 100 oxycodone-purchasing pharmacies.

The state claims to have made enormous strides in recent years against a nationwide epidemic of prescription drug abuse.

(Editing by David Adams and Stacey Joyce)

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