NY Doctor, Advocate for Latino Healthcare, Charged With Running Oxycodone Ring

Founder of a health clinic that caters to the community, Dr. Hector Castro had been known as an advocate for Latino healthcare.

Now he is known for something else.

New York law enforcement authorities charged Castro with running an interstate smuggling ring that trafficked $10 million worth of oxycodone across several states, including Pennsylvania, where the investigation resulted in the largest prescription drug-related mass arrest in the state's history, police said.

Authorities said 49 people were arrested Tuesday, including the leaders of two major drug trafficking networks in Pennsylvania, after an undercover 15-month investigation conducted by the city's special narcotics unit.

This is just drug dealing while wearing a lab coat. It's no different from a street hood pitching bags of heroin.

— Brian Crowell, U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency

"This is just drug dealing while wearing a lab coat," said Brian Crowell, a special agent with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, according to the New York Daily News."It's no different from a street hood pitching bags of heroin."

Castro, who ran the Itzamna Medical Center in Manhattan, pleaded not guilty to 39 counts of criminal sale of a prescription for a controlled substance in Manhattan's state Supreme Court.

More than 500,000 pills were dispensed from New Jersey pharmacies based on more than 4,500 prescriptions that came from Castro's office, authorities said. In New York, the state's health department cannot track prescriptions that are filled out of state.

"A scheme to obtain prescriptions in one state, and fill them and distribute them in another, exposes weakness in our regulatory systems," Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan said in a release.

The investigation was sparked by a fatal oxycodone overdose in Middlesex, N.J., in 2011. Officials say a pill bottle with Castro's name on it was found at the scene.

Authorities say Castro and his office manager, Patricia Valera, illegally distributed pills in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania during the past two years.

Forty-three people were arrested in Pennsylvania, the state's biggest-ever mass arrest related to prescription drugs, authorities said. Authorities also seized 30 guns in a series of stings in New York and Pennsylvania.

Valera ran a separate scheme in which she stole prescription sheets from Castro and forged them, authorities said. She later sold the sheets to two competing prescription drug trafficking rings in Pennsylvania, authorities said.

Valera, who lived in the Bronx, pleaded not guilty to charges including conspiracy and criminal sale of a prescription for a controlled substance. She was held in police custody until a bail hearing on April 11.

Castro was held on $500,000 bond or $250,000 cash. No one answered the phone at the office of his attorney, Susan Calvello. He will appear in court on April 11.

A locked box containing $20,000 in cash was among evidence seized from his home.

This is based on a story by The Associated Press.

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