Elderly Doctor, Wife Who Ran NYC 'Pill Mill' Headed to Jail

Megan Brooks

September 11, 2018

An elderly internal medicine physician and his wife and office manager have been sentenced to prison for running a prescription opioid "pill mill" on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, which led to roughly 3.2 million oxycodone pills with a street value of nearly $80 million flooding the streets of New York City, according to the city's Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor.

Rogelio Lucas, MD, 80, was sentenced to 1 to 4 years in prison on one count of conspiracy in the fourth degree and 1.5 years in prison on each of 29 counts of criminal sale of a prescription for a controlled substance, to run concurrently.

Lydia Lucas, 82, was sentenced to 1 to 3 years in prison for conspiracy in the fourth degree and 1 year in prison on each of 29 counts of criminal sale of a prescription for a controlled substance, all to run concurrently.

Lydia Lucas, 82, and her husband Dr Rogelio Lucas, 80. Zuma Wire/Alamy

According to the New York Post, the couple rejected a no-jail plea deal to take their chances at trial.

The sentences reflect the "serious consequences that practitioners who abandon their oaths to 'do no harm' should expect to face," Bridget G Brennan, New York City's special narcotics prosecutor, said in a statement. 

"Rather than serving the communities whose trust they had gained, Rogelio Lucas and Lydia Lucas chose instead to abuse that trust and profit off of the opioid crisis ravaging our country. Others who would be tempted to do the same will now think twice before putting their patients and neighbors at risk in order to satisfy their greed," said Brennan.

The Lucases were arrested on June 9, 2015, and a 4-week trial led to the Manhattan jury's guilty verdict on 30 counts on May 4, 2018. Rogelio Lucas surrendered his medical license in April 2016 while criminal charges were pending.

Before 2009, the Lucases offered legitimate medical services through a primary care practice and accepted insurance. But between 2009 and the spring of 2015, the practice underwent a "radical transformation into a pill mill that churned out thousands of illegitimate prescriptions for oxycodone in exchange for illegal cash payments," according to the prosecutor's statement.

"Street-Level Drug Dealers"

A court-ordered review of Rogelio's prescribing history found that he wrote oxycodone prescriptions for about 45 to 50 people per day at the height of the conspiracy, and the proportion of patients paying in cash increased.  By 2014, 93% of patients paid Rogelio in cash, which was encouraged. A sign posted in the office said the office would accept insurance but those who chose to pay via insurance would be restricted from receiving oxycodone.

Boxes of cash were found in the Lucases' Scarsdale, New York, home, according to the prosecutor.

Investigators also found evidence that Rogelio conducted only the most cursory medical examinations of patients and that he overlooked clear signs that patients were not themselves taking the opioid medication.

According to the prosecutor, the trial made clear "that street-level drug dealers, known as 'crew chiefs,' established a presence" at Rogelio's office and sent individuals posing as patients to get prescriptions for oxycodone from Rogelio, "who handed out prescriptions to nearly every person who set foot in his examination room. Crowds gathered in the waiting room, prompting complaints by members of the community." The Lucases moved their Manhattan office three times before being caught.

Brennan said Lydia Lucas served as the gatekeeper for the office and maintained numbered lists of patients and amounts paid each day. Generally, patients who received oxycodone prescriptions were charged $120 cash for each office visit, while those few who did not receive oxycodone prescriptions were charged $80.

Investigators determined that the Lucases brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars per year and dispensed prescriptions for millions of tablets of oxycodone. Corporate tax documents suggested the Lucases concealed and failed to report approximately $500,000 in the year 2013 alone.

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