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Former local doctor, nurse, others charged with Rx violations

STAFF REPORTS


BUFFALO --U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr. announced today that five defendants were charged by criminal complaint with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute, and distribution of, oxycodone, hydrocodone, amphetamine, and buprenorphine, all Schedule II controlled substances, and carisoprodol, alprazolam, phentermine, tramadol, and zolpidem tartrate, all Schedule IV controlled substances. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1,000,000 fine. 

Named in the complaint are:

• Dr. James T. Keefe, 38, of Florida;
• Benjamin Rivera, 40, of Buffalo, NY;
• Laura Ricotta, 27, of Williamsville, NY;
• Takeya Rainey, 43, of Buffalo, NY;
• Phousavath Luangrath, 29, of Buffalo, NY.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Timothy C. Lynch and Joshua Violanti, who are handling the case, stated that according to the complaint, Dr. Keefe is a New York State licensed physician who was previously employed as a contracted physician at the Erie County Medical Center (ECMC), Mercy Hospital of Buffalo, and the Monsignor Carr Institute. In February 2018, the Drug Enforcement Administration began investigating the drug diversion and fraudulent prescription activities of Keefe. On March 6, 2018, after previously being questioned by DEA investigators regarding the issuance of fraudulent prescriptions, Dr. Keefe voluntarily surrendered his DEA Registration, preventing him from continuing to issue any prescriptions for controlled substances.

During the investigation, Dr. Keefe admitted to law enforcement officers to being active user of cocaine, Adderall, and prescription opiates, and to writing false prescriptions to some “friends,” and sharing the prescriptions.

While employed at ECMC, and even after he was terminated, Dr. Keefe issued controlled substance prescriptions to four coworkers, all medical professionals, including co-defendant Phousavath Luangrath, a nurse at ECMC. Luangrath is Dr. Keefe’s ex-girlfriend. Records show that Dr. Keefe issued Luangrath 10 prescriptions of Adderall, a Schedule II controlled substance, between February 2, 2017, and December 21, 2017, totaling 420 dosage units. Of the 10 prescriptions, three were issued after Dr. Keefe was terminated from ECMC.

Records also show that between April 20, 2015, and February  20,  2018,   Dr. Keefe issued defendant Ricotta 15 prescriptions for Schedule II controlled substances, including dextroamphetarnine, oxycodone-acetaminophen, hydrocodone-acetaminophen, and carisoprodol, a Schedule IV controlled substance, totaling 535 dosage units. The prescriptions were issued in her name or the names of her relatives. In addition, Dr. Keefe wrote seven prescriptions for Ricotta’s boyfriend, Benjamin Rivera, for Schedule II controlled substances, including dextroamphetamine, oxycodone-acetaminophen, hydrocodone-acetaminophen, and carisoprodol, a Schedule IV controlled substance, from December 17, 2017, through February 17, 2018, totaling 290 dosage units.

Defendant Takeya Rainey was issued 14 prescriptions by Dr. Keefe for dextroamphetamine and oxycodone, both Schedule II controlled substances, as carisoprodol and alprazolam, both Schedule IV controlled substances, from between September 18, 2017, and February 15, 2018, totaling 1,380 dosage units.

According to the complaint, Dr. Keefe issued 178 fraudulent prescriptions, totaling 9,718 dosage units.

“For the second time this week, a medical professional with an addiction problem has found himself on the wrong side of the law,” stated U.S. Attorney Kennedy. “Where, as here, a physician ignores his Hippocratic Oath to ‘do no harm,’ but instead sells out his medical license for personal or financial gain, my Office will do all that we can to see that strong consequences follow.”   

DEA Special Agent-in-Charge Ray Donovan stated, “This sentence sends a message that there is no place in medicine for doctors to prescribe medications for no medical purpose. Opioid addiction is the leading cause of overdoses nationwide and law enforcement is doubling down on rogue doctors as well as drug trafficking organizations to stop the opioid flow on our streets.”

Dr. Keefe made an initial appearance this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael J. Roemer and was released on conditions. Defendants Rivera, Ricotta, Rainey, and Luangrath made an initial appearance on December 19, 2018. Defendants Rainey, Ricotta, and Luangrath were released, defendant Rivera was detained. 

The complaint is the result of an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, under the direction of Special Agent-in-Charge Ray Donovan.