A major New York hospital's former pharmacy chief stole nearly 200,000 oxycodone pills from the medical centre over more than five years and has been charged under a state drug-kingpin law more often aimed at accused street dealers, narcotics prosecutors said.
Anthony D'Alessandro pleaded not guilty on Tuesday. His lawyer, Joseph Sorrentino, said D'Alessandro was no drug lord, but rather a man who told a hospital investigator he had had a drug problem.
City Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan's office is still investigating what became of the drugs but believes they ended up on the black market for prescription painkillers, where the more than 193,000 missing pills could fetch US$5.6 million.
While serving as Mount Sinai Beth Israel's pharmacy director for 14 years before he was fired this year, D'Alessando is accused of exploiting his access to the hospital's drug vault to grab oxycodone pills on nearly 220 different dates: about 100 at a time when he started in January 2009, but 1,500 at a time when the scheme came to light this spring, Brennan's office said.
Hospital officials first approached him on April 1 about the disappearing drugs, and he signed out another 1,500 pills the next day, prosecutors said.
The hospital launched the investigation in response to an anonymous letter, which came after D'Alessandro's longtime employer, Beth Israel Medical Centre, merged into the Mount Sinai Health System in September.
The hospital noted in a statement that had it brought the case to authorities and had fired D'Alessandro.
D'Alessandro, 47, was facing charges including a major drug trafficking offence that carries the potential for life in prison. It is the first time that Brennan's office, which focuses on drug cases citywide, has deployed the 2009 law against a pharmacist.