Two South Florida doctors are vowing to fight federal charges that their prescription writing at so-called pill mill clinics contributed to the deaths of nine people.
Doctors Cynthia Cadet and Joseph Castronuovo pleaded not guilty to several charges in connection with their work at pain clinics in Broward and Palm Beach counties, at a hearing in federal court on Tuesday.
If convicted of the most serious charge — possession with intent to distribute controlled substances resulting in death — the two could face life in prison and a fine of up to $2 million.
They charged Castronuovo, 72, of Key Largo, in connection with the deaths of two people treated at the West Palm Beach clinic where he did most of his work. The physicians will remain free on bond until they go on trial either later this year or early next year.
Cadet and Castronuovo were previously charged in a federal and state investigation of pill mills in South Florida. They were among 13 doctors and 19 other individuals charged last year with racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and drug-related charges related to clinics operated by Wellington twin brothers, Christopher and Jeffrey George. All but a few of those charged have reached plea agreements, but Cadet and Castronuovo have fought the allegations against them.
Attorneys for both doctors said Tuesday that they will aggressively fight the allegations and insisted their clients did nothing wrong.
Thomas Sclafani, who represents Castronuovo, said the doctors want to be tried separately. He said there was no conspiracy and they worked at different clinics.
Prosecutor Paul Schwartz told U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra that he believes the two should be tried together because many of the witnesses will testify about how business was done at the network of clinics.
“The only difference is one doctor killed two people and the other doctor killed seven people,” Schwartz told the judge.
Michael Weinstein, Cadet’s attorney, said prosecutors are attempting to assign “guilt by association” and said part of his client’s defense will be that the pills were legally and appropriately prescribed, but patients could have abused and misused the drugs.
Prosecutors allege that Cadet ordered 876,000 oxycodone pills between December 2008 and March 2010 and that Castronuovo ordered 388,600 oxycodone pills between February 2009 and March 2010.
According to the charges, the two provided access to the extremely addictive drugs to patients, most of whom traveled to South Florida from other states, without performing tests to determine if they had real medical conditions and needed the treatments.
Sclafani said there are more than 1.1 million documents included in the evidence in the case.
“This case rises or falls on whether these doctors were operating outside accepted practices for doctors,” Sclafani said.
The people who prosecutors said died as a result appeared to be from Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and northern Florida, according to court documents and other public records.
Prosecutors have said the clinics operated by the George brothers distributed more than 20 million oxycodone pills and made about $40 million between 2008 and 2010. Christopher George has been sentenced to more than 17 years in prison and Jeffrey George has been sentenced to more than 15 years in prison.
Meanwhile, state authorities announced on Friday the arrests of three people linked to a suspected pill mill in North Miami Beach. Police arrested Dr. John Wolf, 62, of Fort Lauderdale; Lajuane French, 40, of Miami, the owner of the clinic; and Ebony Pleasure, 29, of Opa-locka, who police said helped patients. All three were charged with racketeering conspiracy and conspiracy to traffic in oxycodone.
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