NEW YORK — A drug ring that sold $1 million in highly addictive black-market prescription painkillers used an ice cream truck to peddle the illegal pills to adults, prosecutors said Thursday.
Louis Scala is accused of being one of the leaders of the Staten Island drug trafficking ring, which sold nearly 43,000 oxycodone pills between 2009 and 2010, prosecutors said.
City Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan said Thursday the ice cream truck was a "primary sales point."
Scala is accused of coming up with the "inventive" method of selling the pills during his regular rounds in his Lickety Split ice cream truck, authorities said. After selling ice cream to children, he would meet with adult oxycodone customers, who would climb into his truck to get their pills, they said.
In a statement, the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor identified Nancy Wilkins, an office manager for a Manhattan orthopedic surgeon, as the "lynchpin of the scheme," alleging she stole prescription pads from her employer and sold the sheets to Scala.
Scala and another leader of the ring, identified as Joseph Zaffuto, then recruited dozens of people — including relatives, friends and neighbors — to take forged prescriptions to small pharmacies to get them filled, the prosecutor said. Some of those recruits later became addicted to the pills, she said.
Suspicious pharmacists who dialed up the physician's office would instead get Wilkins, who's from Brooklyn, the prosecutor said.
The scheme was uncovered when a Brooklyn pharmacist tipped off a state Department of Health narcotics investigator about a suspicious prescription.
Twenty-one people were arrested this week after a nine-month investigation into the drug trafficking ring. They were arraigned Tuesday and Wednesday in state Supreme Court in Manhattan.
Scala, 29, was among those arrested and was released on $15,000 bail. The voice mail on his Staten Island phone was not set up to take messages Thursday.
Zaffuto, 39, and Wilkins, 40, remained in custody, held on bail, and were unavailable for comment.
Someone who answered the phone at Zaffuto's home and identified herself as his daughter declined to comment and hung up the phone. Wilkins' number was unlisted.
It was unclear Thursday whether any of the suspects had attorneys.
The Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor said in a statement that the case "is symptomatic of a dangerous drug epidemic" in the city involving prescription opiate use and abuse. The state Department of Health said that more than 1 million prescriptions for oxycodone were filled last year in the city alone.
Staten Island was the borough with the most oxycodone prescriptions filled — enough to supply 28 percent of the population. There were about 483,000 people living on the island located off the southern tip of Manhattan, according to recent census estimates.