A native of Iran doctor – DEA targets local doctor in prescription painkiller probe

A North Tonawanda family doctor illegally swapped potent painkiller prescriptions for landscaping and home repair services and even economy-size packages of toilet paper and a gas grill without ever examining the individuals for whom he was writing the prescriptions, according to a federal Drug Enforcement Administration charge.

Dr. Matthew A. Bennett, 46, was arrested this morning when DEA agents and local police raided his Clarence home and later searched his offices along the Niagara River in North Tonawanda. He was arraigned this morning in U.S. District Court on a felony count of unlawful distribution of controlled substances.

The investigation had striking similarities to a case pending against a Niagara Falls doctor who allegedly prescribed vast quantities of pain medication without determining if the drugs were medically necessary.

In fact, Bennett, a native of Iran who arrived in the United States more than 30 years ago, was described as an acquaintance of Dr. Pravinchandra V. Mehta, who surrendered his license to practice medicine following his arrest last year on felony drug distribution charges.

Many of Mehta’s patients, law enforcement sources said, sought out Bennett following Mehta’s arrest on Jan. 27, 2011, and found in him a doctor willing to assist them in their addiction to the powerful pain medications.

“… Dr. Bennett routinely drafted prescriptions for controlled substances outside the usual scope of legitimate medical practice,” stated Mark Fowler, a DEA Drug Task Force member. “Dr.  Bennett would write the prescriptions, then bill the insurance carrier for a full medical visit.”

Confidential informants and undercover task force investigators obtained numerous prescriptions  for opiod painkillers such as Oxymorphone and Roxicodone, sometimes receiving more than a 30-day supply in the same month, which authorities believe were then sold on the streets.

Arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott this morning, Dr. Bennett, wearing a black shirt and blue jeans, was released on a non-financial bond and ordered to surrender his passport. He declined to comment to reporters as he left the courthouse and one of his lawyers, Herbert L. Greenman, said, “He’s not going to make any statements.”

During today’s court appearance, Judge Scott indicated some concern about Dr. Bennett’s medical practice and what he might be doing between his arraignment today and his next court appearance Thursday.

After a brief sidebar with lawyers from both sides, the judge indicated he was satisfied with what he heard from the prosecution and the defense, but declined to elaborate on the agreement between the two sides.

Later in the day. Joel L. Daniels, Dr. Bennett’s other attorney, was asked if his client would be able to continue practicing medicine while addressing the charges against him and answered, “We’re working on it.”

State investigators also are looking into whether Bennett committed Medicaid fraud by possibly filing claims for payment of medical exams he never performed before issuing the prescriptions, authorities said.

Scrutiny of Bennett intensified when members of the Niagara County Drug Task Force, North Tonawanda and Town of Tonawanda police departments passed along information stating that drug dealers and addicts they were targeting had connections to the doctor.

But what shocked federal investigators, according to Dale M. Kasprzyk, resident agent in charge of the Buffalo DEA office, was the way Bennett abused the trust placed in him as a physician.

“Dr. Bennett used his prescription pad like a checkbook. He paid for services on his house. He paid for supplies at his medical office and bartered for a gas grill at his residence,” Kasprzyk said. “There were no medical exams, no treatment plans for patients, and there was no follow-up care provided to these people, all in violations of federal law.”

In one instance at 5:47 p.m. July 12, accordig to authorities, an undercover investigator showed up at a side door to Bennett’s office at 624 River Road but did not have to go inside for the prescription slips.

“The UC-1 [undercover investigator] was met at the south entrance to the building by Dr. Bennett. Dr. Bennett personally handed the UC-1 a prescription for 60 Oxymorphone 15 milligram tablets and a prescription for 30 Xanax [a mood stabilizer] 0.25 milligram tablets.

“The UC-1 took possession of the prescriptions, thanked Dr. Bennett and left the property, never having entered Dr. Bennett’s office on that occasion. No conversation regarding the physical condition of the UC-1 took place and no physical examination of the UC-1 took place,” Fowler stated in the criminal complaint.

A week later, Bennett allegedly issued more prescriptions in exchange for rolls of paper towels and toilet paper at his office.

“Dr. Bennett expressed an interest in exchanging prescriptions for paper products on a weekly basis,” Fowler stated.

When the delivery was made at 4:46 p.m., Bennett was busy seeing patients and a staff member directed the undercover investigator to bring the economy size packages of paper products into the office break room. “The office employee then handed the UC-2 a prescription for 60 Roxicodone 15 milligram tablets and a prescription for 60 Klonopin 0.5 milligram tablets.”

In perhaps the most outrageous transaction, on July 24, Bennett accepted an offer of a gas grill in exchange for prescription painkillers, according to the complaint.

But the grill had to be delivered to his $440,000 home at 9405 Hunting Valley Road before he would keep up his end of the bargain.

Two undercover investigators arrived at about 6:30 p.m. with the gas grill and two blank prescriptions that Bennett had given a confidential informant earlier in the day, promising that he would sign them when the grill arrived.

“UC-3 and UC-4 then off-loaded the gas grill from the UC vehicle and Dr. Bennett wheeled the gas grill toward the garage. UC-3 then handed the unsigned prescriptions to Dr. Bennett. Dr. Bennett then signed the prescription with a pen provided by UC-3, using the lid of the gas grill as a platform.

“Bennett remarked that he hoped the UC-4’s back was good and to get an X-Ray. At no time did Bennett inquire about the medical history or ailments UC-4 was experiencing.”

And while the federal charge against Bennett portrays him as a reckless  physician out to  make any kind of deal for valuables, it is in stark contrast to an internet video promotion in which the doctor, with soothing background music, claims he is a holistic healer.

“When they [patients] find out I do alternative medicine, what they like is for me to be able to explain to them how I can transition them into alternative medicine or holistic medicine. They like to be able to have the option to chose between a pill and an herb,” he said.

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