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PHARMACIST, ACCUSED OF FRAUD, TO LOSE LICENSE

The state is taking "immediate action" to prevent Jamestown pharmacist Anthony T. Rizzo from selling prescription drugs.

Rizzo -- indicted in two multimillion-dollar fraud cases last July and earlier this month -- will be required to surrender his license, a deputy commissioner in the state Education Department said Tuesday. "He will not be practicing pharmacy in New York State. He will be out of business," said Johanna Duncan-Portier, deputy commissioner in charge of the state office that oversees the licensing of pharmacists and other professionals.

Some law enforcement officials were disturbed to learn from a report in The Buffalo News last week that the Education Department still considered Rizzo a licensed pharmacist "in good standing," despite two fraud cases pending against him.

Why was Rizzo allowed to continue selling drugs more than four months after his first criminal indictment?

Education Department officials took no action until Tuesday because they did not want to do anything that would impede or complicate the criminal investigations, Ms. Duncan-Portier said.

"This is standard procedure. We've had an investigation opened for more than a year, and we were involved in a collaborative effort with the federal authorities," Ms. Duncan-Portier said.

Rizzo, 52, owner of Union Pharmacy at 83 Allen St., Jamestown, was arraigned in federal court Monday. He is charged with falsely claiming to own the region's largest nursing home in a scam that allowed him to get huge discounts on $3 million in prescription drug purchases. He pleaded not guilty to the charges, which were filed about 12 days ago, during a brief appearance before Magistrate Judge Edmund F. Maxwell.

In another case filed in July by the state attorney general's Medicaid Fraud Bureau, Rizzo is charged with submitting 8,000 phony prescriptions and receiving money for them without providing drugs.

He also has pleaded not guilty in that case and is awaiting trial.

Ms. Duncan-Portier said authorities have no evidence, thus far, that Rizzo's alleged crimes put his prescription customers in danger.

"The crimes charged against him are strictly financial frauds. This is a large fraud case, and we take it very seriously," the deputy commissioner said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Rogowski said he had no comment regarding the Education Department's actions in the case.

Law enforcement officials described the two indictments against Rizzo as two of the biggest fraud cases ever lodged against a pharmacist in this region.

Assisting in the probes were the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Division and Jamestown police.

In the state case, Rizzo is accused of stealing $2 million from the state Medicaid system and bilking the EPIC (Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage) program by submitting 8,000 phony prescriptions for reimbursement.

In the federal case, the U.S. attorney's office charges Rizzo with obtaining discounts of up to 60 percent on prescription drugs by falsely claiming that he ran a 4,100-bed nursing home, which would have been several times larger than any nursing home in Western New York.

He also is accused of submitting false billings to health-care programs for prescriptions that were never ordered.

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