NEW YORK—High above the ground, some 10 stories up, crane operators on the New York City waterfront were responsible for lowering about 60,000-pound containers onto four pins. But their cognition was impaired. They were allegedly on drugs.
Five longshoremen, who worked at Brooklyn Cruise Terminal and at New York Container Terminal Inc. at the Howland Hook port, were arrested Tuesday for their alleged involvement in a prescription drug and insurance fraud ring that operated out of Staten Island and New Jersey.
Law enforcement officials seized over $3 million worth of assets, including 12 pounds of gold from a doctor at the center of the alleged scheme, Mihir Bhatt, 47.
Prosecutors said Bhatt allegedly prescribed almost 1.8-million Oxycodone pills, through more than 11,692 prescriptions over four years. Oxycodone is a semi-synthetic drug derived from poppies.
The prescriptions were allegedly falsified, and “written for people who did not need them,” Richmond County District Attorney Daniel Donovan Jr. said.
Bhatt and his codefendant, chiropractor Thomas Dinardo, 44, face a maximum of 25 years in prison on the most serious charge of enterprise corruption.
Bhatt wrote prescriptions from a number of locations, including the NYC Wellness Center on Hylan Boulevard on Staten Island that Dinardo owned and operated.
“Bhatt gave monetary compensation to Dinardo in the guise of rent,” Donovan said.
Dinardo allegedly helped Bhatt coordinate patients that could become part of the scheme.
“Visits with patients lasted 2 to 3 minutes, but insurance companies were billed for visits that would take up to 60 minutes,” Donovan said.
A female pharmacist based in New Jersey, Rita Patel, 48, was also arrested Tuesday. Patel allegedly filled prescriptions when Bhatt’s patients were denied elsewhere.
“He [Bhatt] had other patients, but the longshoremen were the only ones charged with a crime,” Donovan said.
John Hennelly, chief of the Waterfront Commission Police, said someone could have been “horribly hurt or maimed” if those longshoremen would have had an accident on the job.
Hennelly said it requires precision to lower 60,000-pound shipping containers onto four pins, and a license. “You cannot be high and do that,” he said.
The longshoremen were required to undertake drug tests as part of their job, but some “avoided drug tests at work, using prosthetics, cleansing drinks, and synthetic urine,” Donovan said.
The 20-month investigation involved cameras and listening devices set up in offices. A worker was also arrested in Tuesday’s bust.