TRENTON –Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino announced that a medical doctor from Essex County has been arrested and charged – along with 16 alleged drug dealers in Atlantic County – for allegedly distributing tens of thousands of high-dose pills of the opioid painkiller oxycodone, as well as the anti-anxiety drug alprazolam, sold under the brand name Xanax. The doctor allegedly sold prescriptions for cash to the ring of drug dealers in Atlantic County, writing fraudulent prescriptions for individuals who had no legitimate medical need for the highly addictive pills.
Dr. Craig Gialanella, 53, of North Caldwell, N.J., an internist with a medical practice at 50 Newark Avenue in Belleville, N.J., was arrested on July 17 by detectives of the Division of Criminal Justice. He was charged by complaint-warrant with second-degree distribution of narcotics.
The following three defendants allegedly led the drug ring in Atlantic County supplied by Dr. Gialanella:
- Mary Connolly, 54, of Egg Harbor Township, N.J,
- Douglas Patterson, 53, of Egg Harbor Township, N.J., Connolly’s ex-husband, and
- Lauren Connolly, 28, of Egg Harbor Township, N.J., Connolly’s daughter.
Those defendants and 13 other defendants, including Mary Connolly’s son Robert Connolly, 31, of Galloway, N.J., are charged with either second- or third-degree distribution of narcotics or conspiracy to distribute narcotics. The other 12 of those defendants are listed below. Mary Connolly’s son Michael Connolly, Jr., 33, of Galloway, is charged with third-degree obtaining narcotics by fraud, bringing the total number of defendants charged to 18.
The charges stem from “Operation Oxy Highway,” an ongoing investigation by the Attorney General’s Prescription Fraud Investigation Strike Team, a team of detectives and attorneys in the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau that targets corrupt health care professionals and “pill mills.” Since 2014, the team has charged six doctors, including Gialanella, with illegally distributing opiates, including two doctors charged with strict liability for overdose deaths.
“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,” said Attorney General Porrino. “And 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. Rather than preserving health and protecting life, this doctor allegedly profited by prescribing addiction and death in one of the counties hardest hit by the epidemic of opiate addiction in New Jersey.”
“In the past three years, our Prescription Fraud Investigation Strike Team has charged six doctors with illegally distributing opioid pain pills, including two doctors who currently face first-degree charges of strict liability for drug-induced deaths,” said Director Elie Honig 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.”
The investigation began in December 2016, after a pharmacist in Atlantic County reported that Patterson and other local residents were using Dr. Gialanella, a general practitioner whose office is more than 100 miles away, to obtain large quantities of opiates. The pharmacist noted that Patterson used multiple dates of birth on oxycodone prescriptions to avoid detection by the New Jersey Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) and limits on permitted quantities of such narcotics.
The New Jersey PMP revealed that from Jan. 1, 2016 to Dec. 7, 2016, Dr. Gialanella issued 413 prescriptions for approximately 50,000 oxycodone 30 milligram tablets in the names of 30 individuals from the Atlantic County area, including prescriptions for the alleged leaders and members of the drug ring. Frequently the prescriptions were issued in the same name with a different date of birth. Patterson also allegedly would alter his name to avoid detection.
The investigation revealed that Patterson was the individual who allegedly introduced Mary Connolly and numerous other individuals from Atlantic County to Dr. Gialanella as an illicit source of oxycodone and alprazolam. In return, Patterson allegedly would require the “patients” to provide him with a share of the pills they obtained using prescriptions from Gialanella. The investigation linked all of the other defendants to Patterson, Mary Connolly or Lauren Connolly, revealing that they allegedly worked together under the oversight of Patterson and Mary Connolly to obtain and distribute pills.
Dr. Gialanella allegedly charged the purported patients $50 to $100 for an “office visit,” which typically lasted just a few minutes and did not involve any type of exam, testing or treatment. Gialanella would write prescriptions for 90 or 180 tablets of oxycodone 30 milligram tablets and 90 alprazolam 2 milligram tablets. It is alleged that Gialanella would write from two to as many as five prescriptions for each drug for a single patient every 30 days, frequently leaving the date of birth blank.
The investigation revealed that Patterson and Mary Connolly allegedly managed the supply side and distribution activities of the Atlantic County drug ring. Lauren Connolly allegedly participated in the drug ring both as an intermediary between Mary Connolly, Patterson and street-level distributors, and as a street-level distributor herself. Surveillance captured Mary and Lauren Connelly allegedly engaging in hand-to-hand drug transactions with other individuals after filling prescriptions for oxycodone. The ring allegedly sold the 30 milligram oxycodone tablets, known as “Blues,” for between $18 and $25 per pill. They allegedly sold the alprazolam pills, known as “Zannies,” for $5.
The investigation to date has focused on Atlantic County, where the presence of numerous patients who were traveling over 100 miles to see a primary care physician raised immediate suspicion. The investigation is ongoing, however, and it is suspected that Dr. Gialanella may have been illegally prescribing oxycodone to individuals in other counties. Between January 2014 and May 2017, Gialanella issued prescriptions for more than 350,000 oxycodone 30 milligram tablets. If all of those pills were sold on the street for $20 each, they would command more than $7 million. The investigation revealed that Dr. Gialanella began to significantly curtail his alleged illegal prescribing of oxycodone in Atlantic County after Governor Christie signed a groundbreaking law in February to address the opiate epidemic, setting a five-day limit on initial prescriptions for opioid painkillers.
A total of 1,587 people died from drug overdoses in New Jersey in 2015, including 918 deaths involving heroin, 417 involving fentanyl, and 302 involving oxycodone. In some cases, multiple drugs are involved, so the numbers for individual drugs overlap in part. Today the Attorney General’s Office released statistics showing that 1,022 people died from drug overdoses in just the first six months of 2016, primarily involving opiates. There were 394 deaths involving fentanyl and fentanyl analogs in those six months, 594 deaths involving heroin, and 177 deaths involving oxycodone. Total overdoses for the first six months of 2016 were up 41 percent over the first six months of 2015, heroin overdoses were up 43 percent, oxycodone overdoses were up 46 percent, and fentanyl overdoses (not including fentanyl analogs) were up 120 percent.
“More than 1,000 people died from drug overdoses in just the first half of 2016, primarily involving opiates, with the catastrophic rise in deaths from fentanyl and fentanyl analogs continuing at a devastating pace,” said Attorney General Porrino. “There’s no easy fix to the epidemic of opiate addiction, which means we must continually re-dedicate ourselves to the hard work of fighting it on every front: through addiction prevention, including our new limits on prescription opioid painkillers; promoting treatment options in our communities and in the criminal justice system; and of course continuing aggressive criminal enforcement targeting major heroin traffickers, as well as pill mills and corrupt healthcare providers who divert prescription opiates.”
For “Operation Oxy Highway,” Detectives Kevin Gannon and Scott Caponi are the lead detectives and Deputy Attorney General Ronald Minsky is the lead prosecutor for the Attorney General’s Prescription Fraud Investigation Strike Team, within the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau. They conducted the investigation under the supervision of Sgt. Michael Rasar, Lt. Rich King, Deputy Chief of Detectives Christopher Donohue, Deputy Bureau Chief Erik Daab, and Bureau Chief Lauren Scarpa Yfantis of the Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau. Attorney General Porrino also thanked the New Jersey State Police Intelligence Section, Division of Consumer Affairs Enforcement Bureau, New Jersey Prescription Monitoring Program, and U.S. Marshals Task Force for their valuable assistance in the investigation.
Second-degree crimes carry a sentence of five to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000, while third-degree crimes carry a sentence of three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.
The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Because the charges are indictable offenses, they will be presented to a grand jury for potential indictment.
The following 12 defendants are charged with distribution of narcotics and/or conspiracy to distribute narcotics:
- Danielle Grainger, 33, of Linwood, N.J.
- William Warren, 51, of Egg Harbor Township, N.J.
- Francis Clemson, 53, of Ocean View, N.J.
- Ashton Funk, 35, of Northfield, N.J.
- Theodore Gogol, 37, of Margate, N.J.
- Beatriz Oquendo, 34, of Pleasantville, N.J.
- Amanda Blomdahl, 37, of Somers Point, N.J.
- Kevin Reid, 47, of Ventnor, N.J.
- David Blocker, 49, of Galloway, N.J.
- Joseph Green, 39, of Atlantic City, N.J.
- Christopher Perez, 34, of Mays Landing, N.J., and
- John Hager, 39, of Deptford, N.J.
Attorney General Porrino and Director Honig urged anyone with information related to the ongoing investigation, or related to other health care professionals or individuals engaging in this conduct, to call the Division of Criminal Justice’s confidential tip line at 866-TIPS-4CJ.
The New Jersey Prescription Monitoring Program recently added a web portal on the Division of Consumer Affairs website to encourage pharmacists to confidentially report if they suspect that individuals are diverting prescription narcotics.
The following five additional doctors have been charged in separate investigations by the Attorney General’s Prescription Fraud Investigation Strike Team:
Dr. Byung Kang – Kang was indicted in March in a joint investigation with the DEA Prescription Fraud Strike Force. He is charged with illegally distributing oxycodone and Xanax. Kang allegedly prescribed oxycodone to a patient he knew was abusing the drug, and the patient later fatally overdosed on pills he prescribed. Kang is charged with first-degree strict liability for a drug-induced death.
Dr. George Beecher – Beecher was indicted in December 2015 for allegedly conspiring with a drug dealer to operate a ring that distributed oxycodone pills with a street value of over $1 million. He is charged with first-degree strict liability for a drug-induced death in the death of a ring member’s son.
Dr. Eugene Evans, et al. – Evans was sentenced in June 2015 to five years in prison for conspiring with David Roth, a drug dealer, to illegally distribute thousands of high-dose oxycodone pills. Eight other defendants pleaded guilty for their roles in the drug ring. Roth was sentenced to seven years in prison.
Dr. Thomas Duffield – Duffield was indicted in October 2016 on charges he illegally wrote oxycodone prescriptions that he exchanged for gift cards, often with people who were not his patients. Twice he allegedly exchanged gift cards for prescriptions with an undercover police officer in Trenton, N.J.
Dr. James Ludden – Ludden was charged on March 8 with illegally prescribing prescription narcotics, including opiates, to a number of individuals, without a legitimate medical purpose.
Office online at Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube. The social media links provided are for reference only. The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office does not endorse any non-governmental websites, companies or applications.