HARRISBURG — A Kingston woman was one of the people linked to a $2.1 million prescription-drug trafficking ring that stretched into Northeastern Pennsylvania from a physician’s office in New York City, state and federal authorities said Thursday.
Natalie Gurinovich Petrov, 24, of East Walnut Street, was one of 49 people charged in “Operation Script King” that focused on Oxycodone prescriptions being filled at hundreds of pharmacies across New York, New Jersey and in the Pennsylvania counties of Monroe, Northampton and Lehigh.
Petrov, whose Facebook page identifies her as a 2008 Wyoming Valley West graduate, was arraigned Tuesday on two counts of corrupt organizations, and one count each of acquisition or obtaining a controlled substance by fraud, criminal use of communication facility and criminal conspiracy.
She remained jailed Thursday at the Monroe County Prison for lack of $10,000 bail. Online court records indicate she had two speeding violations but no criminal record.
At a news conference at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s field office in New York City, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane said prescriptions for Oxycodone were allegedly written by Dr. Hector Castro from the Itzamna Medical Center in Manhattan. Castro’s office manager, Patricia Valera-Rodriguez, was the contact person for two competing drug trafficking rings led by Bryn Stevenson, 29, of Bartonsville, and John Romangnolo, 44, of Cresco, in Northeastern Pennsylvania, Kane said.
Arrest papers linked Petrov to the Stevenson ring.
Intercepted conversations showed that Stevenson and Romagnolo both sent names and personal information of individuals to Valera-Rodriguez, who then wrote out prescriptions for Oxycodone in those names. The hard copy prescriptions were then allegedly sold for $500 each.
Agents said Romagnolo, who was known as the “Script King,” traveled to New York and met Valera Rodriguez at least three times a week to obtain prescriptions. Between March 2011 and December 2012, Romagnolo allegedly paid Valera-Rodriguez more than $30,000 for illegal prescriptions.
According to the criminal complaint, Stevenson preferred to have his prescriptions delivered to Stroudsburg by Valera-Rodriguez’s husband, Hector Rodriguez.
Investigators followed Stevenson on Jan. 15 to Mount Airy Casino near Mount Pocono, where he met Valera-Rodridguez and her husband in their hotel room, the complaint says.
Once they had the prescriptions, Stevenson and Romagnolo allegedly employed numerous “runners” or “fillers,” who filled the scripts at multiple pharmacies.
Then pills were allegedly illegally consumed or sold for profit throughout Monroe and surrounding counties. The organization’s “fillers” allegedly paid cash, used private insurance or medical assistance to pay for the prescriptions.
Kane said Romagnolo and Stevenson, with the help of Valera-Rodriguez, kept careful track of when and where each prescription was filled, so they would not draw the attention of pharmacies or law enforcement.
500 scripts, 70,000 pills
Agents estimate that between March 2011 and March 2013 the organizations led by Stevenson and Romagnolo filled more than 500 prescriptions, using 100 different names. They are allegedly responsible for illegally obtaining more than 70,000 Oxycodone tablets with an estimated street value of $2.1 million.
Demand for Oxycodone in Northeastern Pennsylvania was so high that many pharmacies ran out of the drug or refused to fill prescriptions, according to the complaint.
Over the past two days agents searched defendants’ homes, seized more than two dozen handguns and rifles, five ATVs, a dirt bike, digital scales, numerous pill bottles, several prescriptions and several thousand dollars in cash.
“Many of the guns seized during our searches were loaded and strategically placed, suggesting that the defendants were ready to resort to violence at a moment’s notice,” Kane said. “The common perception is that prescription drug abuse is not a violent issue. Based on the guns that we have seized, it is clear that is not the case.”