KEY LARGO -- The attorney for an Ocean Reef Club resident and physician accused of overprescribing oxycodone that ended up killing two patients says the charges are overzealous and without merit.
Dr. Joseph Castronuovo, 72, is fighting a federal indictment that could leave him imprisoned for the rest of his life if found guilty.
He is one of 32 people charged last August with racketeering conspiracy, money-laundering conspiracy and illegally distributing prescription drugs for a sham business called Executive Pain.
Castronuovo's attorney, Thomas Sclafani, said when his client refused to plead guilty to those charges, prosecutors spent months trying to pin him with other charges. Pleading to those initial charges would have resulted in little or no jail time, Sclafani said.
The result of the subseqent investigation are additional charges that he inadvertently killed clients Tommy Wayne Harris and Michael Grant.
"I am extremely angry with the government charging Dr. Castronuovo with the deaths of two of his patients," said Sclafani said.
Sclafani questioned the legitimacy of the government's case, saying one of the medical examiners was a practicing dentist.
Sclafani characterized the indictment as an example of federal prosecutors trying to pin the pill-mill crisis on legitimate doctors.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lawrence LaVecchio declined to comment, citing office policy on pending cases.
The federal, all-hands-on-deck investigation and prosecution, dubbed Operation Oxy Alley, was meant to nab "high-level members of drug trafficking enterprises," who ran pill mills in Broward and Palm Beach counties, said Wilfredo Ferrer, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, in a news release last month.
With regard to the two deaths allegedly caused by Castronuovo, Sclafani said two independent pathologists have concluded he was not at fault. He said prosecutors had this information when they decided to move forward with an indictment.
"If you start wanting to charge a doctor criminally because his patients are not following directions, a lot of doctors are going to be under the gun," Sclafani said.
Castronuovo ordered and received 388,600 dosages of oxycodone from various pharmaceutical wholesalers between Feb. 26, 2009, and March 3, 2010, according to the indictment.
The Key Largo resident is also charged with providing oxycodone to people under the age of 21, which carries up to 40 years in prison upon conviction.
By his attorney's advice, Castronuovo did not testify before the grand jury. Sclafani said the doctor may testify at trial but that decision has not been made.
A trial date has not been set, but Sclafani said he expects it to go forward Nov. 1. He said prosecutors are asking for eight weeks of trial time.
Castronuovo, a specialist in internal and nuclear medicine, graduated from Georgetown University School of Medicine in 1964.