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Local doctor facing charges in pill scheme

Published August 05. 2013 05:04PM

An Allentown doctor who practiced in Carbon County faces drug and identity theft charges in connection with what authorities say was a $400,000 prescription painkiller scheme.

John R. Manzella, 48, of Salisbury Township, was charged on July 23 by the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General with administration etc. of a controlled substance by a practitioner; acquisition or obtaining possession of a controlled substance by misrepresentation; administration etc. of a controlled substance by a practitioner; manufacture, delivery, or possession with intent to manufacture or deliver; and identity theft. All of the charges are felonies.

The document filed by narcotics agent Jose Collazo of the Office of the Attorney General with District Judge Edward Lewis of Jim Thorpe lists the date of the offenses as Jan. 1, 2011.

The charges against Manzella stem from a case against Robert J. Kosch of Newark, N.J., who was charged in June with using fraudulent prescriptions to obtain 17,740 Oxycodone pills from three Carbon County pharmacies in 2011 and 2012.

Manzella allegedly helped Kosch by creating fictitious patients for whom the drugs were "prescribed," according to an affidavit of probable cause in the Kosch case, also filed by Collazo.

Efforts to reach Manzella for comment early Monday were unsuccessful. An affidavit of probable cause for Manzella has not yet been filed, and a preliminary hearing has yet to be scheduled.

According to the Kosch affidavit, filed June 26 with District Judge Carl Balliet of Allentown, detectives in Sussex County, N.J. found text messages between Kosch and Manzella that "show a conspiracy involving fraudulent prescriptions between Kosch and Dr. Manzella."

The affidavit describes one such conversation: "Kosch warns Dr. Manzella that a pharmacy will be calling to verify a prescription in another subject's name. Dr. Manzella responds that one of his staff members is verifying the fraudulent script."

Collazo wrote in the affidavit that he found "numerous" Oxycodone prescriptions from Manzella filled in Bucks, Carbon, Lehigh, Luzerne, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton and Schuylkill counties. Pharmacies in those counties verified several of the prescriptions with Manzella, and "more importantly, many of these names were found on Kosch's notepad," Collazo wrote.

In May, Collazo executed three search warrants on Manzella's offices. Of the 35 patient files sought by the warrant, only nine existed, even though physicians are required to maintain records of controlled substances they prescribe.

State narcotics agent Brian Rimple, assisting Collazo, then visited Northeast Pharmacy in Lehighton. Although the pharmacy fills prescriptions for nursing homes and other institutions and does not do business with the public, the manager told Rimple she had spoken with Manzella, who asked her to fill Oxycodone prescriptions for a John Houle, a Fred Sacco, and Robert Kosch as personal favors to Manzella.

Rimple showed her a picture of Kosch, and she verified it was he who had picked up the Oxycodone.

According to the government's Prescription Monitoring Program database, between Feb. 7, 2011 and May 7, 2012, Northeast Pharmacy dispensed about 10,230 Oxycodone pills in the names of Houle, Sacco and Kosch. No patient file was found for Sacco, and although one existed for Houle, Manzella had not seen him as a patient since 2010.

Later in May, Collazo visited the Mauch Chunk Pharmacy in Jim Thorpe, where the pharmacist recognized Kosch as a customer who claimed to be "John Molina," and to whom the pharmacy dispensed 3,600 Oxycodone pills between January 2011 and July 2012 all prescribed by Manzella.

Manzella did not have a patient file for "John Molina," who apparently does not exist, according to the affidavit.

On June 4, Collazo went to Walter's Pharmacy in Allentown, where the pharmacist said she had a customer who claimed to be "Thomas Lembo," and for whom she had filled numerous Oxycodone prescriptions written by Manzella.

The pharmacist said that on Oct. 4, 2012, she had spoken with Manzella by phone because "Lembo had arrived early to pick up his pills. She emailed a photo of 'Lembo' to Manzella, who told her the man was a contractor who had done some work in his office and had apparently taken a prescription pad. Manzella told the pharmacist not to fill any more prescriptions for 'Lembo.'"

She also showed Collazo the photo, and the agent recognized the man as Kosch. Manzella had no patient file for "Thomas Lembo," for whom Walter's Pharmacy had dispensed 2,910 Oxycodone pills between May 2011 and October 2012.

According to the affidavit, "Robert Kosch and Dr. John Manzella conspired to unlawfully obtain Oxycodone through misrepresentation and fraud. Over a 22-month period, a total of 13,000 pills were dispensed by (the three pharmacies) to Robert Kosch, for an approximate value in excess of $400,000."

The pills were obtained, Collazo wrote, "with intent to deliver to another/others."

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