NEW YORK — A major hospital's former pharmacy chief stole nearly 200,000 oxycodone pills from the medical center 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 Tuesday.
Anthony D'Alessandro was arrested early Tuesday and awaiting arraignment. His lawyer didn't immediately return a call.
City Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan's office is still investigating what became of the drugs but believe they ended up on the thriving black market for prescription painkillers, where the more than 193,000 missing pills could fetch a total of about $5.6 million.
While serving as Mount Sinai Beth Israel's pharmacy director for 14 years before his firing this spring, D'Alessando exploited his access to the hospital's drug vault to grab oxycodone pills by the score: about 100 at a time when he started in January 2009, but 1,500 at a go by the time the scheme came to light this spring, said Kati Cornell, a spokeswoman for Brennan. Hospital officials first approached him April 1 about the disappearing drugs, and he signed out another 1,500 pills the next day, she said.
To account for the missing medicine, D'Alessandro made phony entries in an electronic inventory system to indicate that the drugs were being sent to a research pharmacy within the hospital, prosecutors said. The pharmacy wasn't doing any oxycodone research at the time, and its staffers were unaware of the phony requisition slips, according to prosecutors.
The hospital didn't immediately comment on D'Alessandro's arrest. The hospital launched the investigation, which came after D'Alessandro's longtime employer, Beth Israel Medical Center, merged into the Mount Sinai Health System in September.
D'Alessandro, 47, was facing charges including a major drug trafficking offense that carries the potential for life in prison. It's the first time Brennan's office, which focuses on drug cases citywide, has deployed the 2009 law against a pharmacist. It couldn't immediately be determined whether any other prosecutors around the state have done so.
Around the country, at least a few other hospital pharmacists have been accused of stealing drugs they were supposed to dispense.
A onetime pharmacy director at another Manhattan hospital pleaded guilty in 1998 to a federal drug-distribution charge for taking about $60,000 worth of cancer drugs, antidepressants and other medications and selling them for cash, and he was sentenced to just over a year in prison.
An assistant director of a Syracuse hospital pharmacy pleaded guilty in 1997 to state charges of stealing cancer medicine as part of a multimillion-dollar ring; he was sentenced to four to 12 years in prison.
More recently, a pharmacy manager was charged in 2008 with stealing a generic form of the stimulant Ritalin from a Raleigh, North Carolina, hospital.
Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter @jennpeltz.