Dr. Matthew A. Bennett had a reputation for being frugal, investigators say.
So frugal, they contend, that the 49-year-old doctor often traded signed illegal prescriptions for repairs and improvements at his Clarence home.
Or, in one instance, for a new gas grill.
Bennett admitted the grill-for-pills deal as part of a plea agreement Monday that could send him to prison for 57 months.
“By putting personal greed ahead of his legal and professional obligations, this doctor crossed the line and in effect became a drug dealer with a degree,” U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. said in a statement.
Bennett pleaded guilty to unlawful distribution of oxycodone before U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara and will surrender his medical license as part of the plea deal.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy C. Lynch said the doctor issued prescriptions for controlled substances to undercover police officers and did so without conducting a proper medical exam or providing treatment.
“At no point were these undercover officers examined by Dr. Bennett,” Lynch told Arcara.
Bennett’s plea agreement refers to seven occasions in 2012 when he provided illegal prescriptions, and makes special mention of the gas grill he received in return in July of that year. Investigators contend that Bennett also received rolls of paper towels and toilet paper in exchange for prescriptions.
The paper goods went to Bennett’s medical offices in North Tonawanda, investigators say, but he insisted that the grill be delivered to his home on Hunting Valley Road.
“He said he would sign the prescription once the gas grill was delivered,” Lynch said.
When the grill arrived at his Clarence home shortly afterward, Bennett lived up to his promise.
“The defendant signed the prescription on the lid of the gas grill,” Lynch said.
Joel L. Daniels, Bennett’s defense attorney, declined to comment after Monday’s proceedings.
Bennett is one of four local doctors who have been charged over the last four years with doling out illegal drugs.
Dr. Pravin V. Mehta, of Niagara Fails, was the first. Mehta, now 76, was charged with illegally dispensing pain medication and other controlled substances.
Since then, two other doctors – Daniel C. Gillick of Youngstown and Albert R. Cowie of Amherst – have been charged in similar cases.
Cowie, who was arrested last week, is accused of writing illegal prescriptions for oxycodone, Percocet and hydrocodone and, with the help of others, keeping some of the pills for himself.
Gillick, who was arrested in 2012, was an emergency room doctor who later pleaded guilty to health care fraud and illegally obtaining a controlled substance. He was sentenced to six months of home confinement and two years’ probation.
Gillick’s case also gained attention because of his relationship with Christine Guilfoyle, the woman who allegedly received drugs from him. She and Aaron Morgan, a boyfriend and fellow addict, were found dead of an overdose early last year.
Bennett’s guilty plea is the result of an investigation by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration; the Niagara County Drug Task Force; Amherst, Buffalo, Lancaster and West Seneca police; and the state Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.