An Egg Harbor Township family allegedly led an Atlantic County drug ring fueled by oxycodone prescriptions from a North Jersey doctor.
Mary Connolly, her ex-husband, Douglas Patterson, and 28-year-old daughter, Lauren Connolly, were the ringleaders, according to Attorney General Christopher Porrino. Connolly’s son, 31-year-old Robert Connolly of Galloway Township, also was among 17 people charged.
An 18th person — Connolly’s 33-year-old son, Michael also of Galloway — is charged with third-degree obtaining narcotics by fraud.
Essex County Dr. Craig Gialanella allegedly issued 413 prescriptions for about 50,000 oxycodone 30 mg oxycodone tablets in the names of 30 “patients” from Atlantic County from Jan. 1 to Dec. 7, 2016, the investigation dubbed “Operation Oxy Highway” found.
One former and one current Margate firefighter are among those charged with distribution of narcotics and/or conspiracy to distribute narcoticsA local pharmacist sparked the investigation in December, after noticing that Patterson and other residents were all using Gialanella to obtain large quantities of opiates.
The doctor allegedly charged patients $50 to $100 for an office visit that would last just a few minutes and not include any exam, testing or treatment. Instead, he would write prescriptions for 90 to 180 tables of 30 mg oxycodone and 90 alprazolam 2 mg tablets.
The oxycodone — known as “Blues” — were fetching $18 to $25 per pill on the street, with the alpraxolam — or “Zannies” — going for $5 each.
Gialanella would write two to as many as five prescriptions per patient for each drug every 30 days, often leaving the date of birth blank. The unnamed pharmacist who broke the case noted that Patterson used multiple dates of birth in an effort to avoid detection under the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program.
Patterson allegedly introduced his former wife to Gialanella and other, and would get a share of each “patient’s” pills in exchange.
The investigation is part of the attorney general’s Prescription Fraud Investigation Strike Team, formed to focus on doctors who act as “pill mills” in feeding the opiate epidemic.
“Doctors who act like drug dealers and illegally dole out prescriptions for these highly addictive painkillers are nothing more than drug pushers in white coats,” Porrino said. “They are even more dangerous than a street dealer, because we trust that our doctors will protect our health and not hurt or kill us.”
Gialanella is one of six doctors charged since the Strike Team was formed three years ago, said Elie Honig, director of the Division of Criminal Justice.
“We’ll continue to bring these cases and hammer home the message that these corrupt healthcare professionals are just as culpable as the heroin dealers, gang leaders and cartel members who profit from the epidemic of opiate addiction,” Honig said.
Among those charged is Ashton Funk, 35, a former Margate firefighter and lifeguard who lost both jobs after he was convicted of shoplifting less than $8 worth of food from a local Wawa. He and current Margate Firefighter Theodore Gogol, 37, are charged with distribution of narcotics and/or conspiracy to distribute narcotics, giving another hit to the city that already is at the center of a prescription fraud case.
“I know one is an ex Margate employee and one is current. That’s all I know,” Margate Mayor Michael Becker said.
As he has said with any charges stemming from the other case, “We’re giving them all the legal rights that they’re entitled to,” he said.
“Anyone who gets indicted will be suspended without pay,” he added.
The defendants have not yet been indicted.
“Our position is that Mr. Gogol simply does not belong in this case,” defense attorney James Leonard Jr. said. “We are confident that once all of the relevant facts are brought to light, that the state will agree and Mr. Gogol will be cleared of any wrong doing.”
Also charged with distribution and/or conspiracy were: Danielle Grainger, 33, of Linwood; William Warren, 51, of Egg Harbor Township; Francis Clemson, 53, of Ocean View; Beatriz Oquendo, 34, of Pleasantville; Amanda Blomdahl, 37, of Somers Point; Kevin Reid, 47, of Ventnor; David Blocker, 49, of Galloway Township; Joseph Green, 39, of Atlantic City; Christopher Perez, 34, of Mays Landing, and John Hager, 39, of Deptford.
Gialanella was arrested Monday on second-degree drug distribution charges. The internist from Belleville, Essex County, was released on his own recognizance Tuesday, according to jail records.
It’s believed Gialanella may have been illegally prescribing drugs to people in other counties, so the investigation is ongoing, Porrino said. Between January 2014 and May 2017, he prescribed more than 350,000 oxycodone 30 mg tablets. Sold on the street, those could be worth more than $7 million.
There was a noticeable decline in the allegedly illegal prescribing after Gov. Chris Christie signed a law in February that set a five-day limit on initial prescriptions for opioid pain killers, Porrino said.
The doctor’s office was closed Wednesday, according to a message on the answering machine.
Gialanella has a patient rating of 4.7 out of 5 on vitals.com.
“He is the best doctor I’ve ever been to,” wrote one patient. “(He) didn’t speak to me in a condescending tone at all. (He) addressed all my issues and I believe he was generally concerned with all the issues I presented to him.”
Gialanella was issued his license April 20, 2005, according to state Board of Medical Examiners records. He has no board actions