Saturday, November 23, 2002

Ex-coroner accused of drug scam

Feds: Prescriptions sold for hundreds

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Former Clermont County Coroner Nico Capurro was accused Friday of illegally prescribing powerful pain medication at clinics he supervised while he was coroner.

Federal authorities say an undercover investigation has found that patients sometimes paid bribes of as much as $300 to clinic employees to see Dr. Capurro, who then gave them a cursory medical examination and a prescription for drugs.

The allegations against Dr. Capurro and other clinic employees are included in a federal complaint that seeks the forfeiture of more than $235,000, which authorities contend is proceeds from the illegal sale of drugs.

The complaint states that most of the money was found in Dr. Capurro's bank accounts or in cash at his house, including nearly $70,000 that had been stuffed into a shoebox.

Although Dr. Capurro has not been charged with a crime, the forfeiture documents filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati reveal for the first time that federal investigators believe the 76-year-old doctor broke the law.

Federal law allows authorities to seek the forfeiture of assets even if formal criminal charges have not been filed

"This investigation has revealed that Nico Capurro ... was illegally dispensing controlled substances without following proper medical procedures," said James R. Kuntz, an Internal Revenue Service agent who summarized the investigation's findings in a sworn statement filed Friday.

FBI officials and IRS officials could not be reached for comment late Friday. Dr. Capurro's lawyer, R. Scott Croswell, also could not be reached.

According to Mr. Kuntz's statement, Dr. Capurro and others have operated a series of "pain clinics" in small cities throughout southern Ohio since at least January 2001.

Mr. Kuntz said those clinics typically stayed open only about six months, closing after police and residents complained about drug addicts flocking to the area for prescriptions.

He said undercover agents of the FBI and other police agencies have repeatedly visited the clinics posing as patients seeking pain relief.

"At each `pain clinic' attended by Dr. Nico Capurro, the `pain clinic' would not accept insurance, personal checks or any form of payment except `cash' money," Mr. Kuntz said in his statement. "The investigation has revealed that individuals could obtain the prescriptions without the benefit of preliminary medical examinations."

At a clinic in Manchester, Ohio, in May, an undercover agent told a staff member he was experiencing pain in his right knee, although he had never had a problem with the knee.

Mr. Kuntz said the staff member noted the complaint on a medical chart but did not perform a medical exam.

"No vital signs, blood pressure, weight, height or any other form of medical exam was completed," Mr. Kuntz said. The agent also found no medical supplies or equipment in the exam room.

When Dr. Capurro came in a short time later, Mr. Kuntz said, he touched the agent's knee with one finger and said it "was swollen." He then told the agent he would prescribe the drugs Lorcet for pain and Xanax for sleep.

After seeing Dr. Capurro, Mr. Kuntz said, the agent paid a staff member $200 cash and left with a prescription.

A month later, at the same clinic, an undercover agent claims he paid a staff member a $300 bribe so he and other agents posing as patients could move in front of people waiting in line to see the doctor.

While waiting, Mr. Kuntz said, the agent struck up a conversation with a man who identified himself as Brian Johnson, a chiropractor who worked at the clinic.

"Johnson stated that he and Dr. Nico Capurro were both out most of the previous night drinking and partying with a younger female and admitted that he and Dr. Nico Capurro were still drunk from their consumption of alcoholic beverages," Mr. Kuntz said in his statement.

During another visit, Mr. Kuntz said, an agent paid a staff member $1,500 to get appointments for six agents and an additional $300 to move them to the front of the line. He said all six complained of various problems with pain, although none actually had any injuries or discomfort.

Mr. Kuntz said the agents received little or no examination from Dr. Capurro, who prescribed pain killers and sleep medication to all six.

Dr. Capurro resigned as coroner on July 26 after it was revealed that a clinic where he worked was under federal investigation. He had been the elected coroner since 1971.

Details of the investigation had remained sealed until the forfeiture complaint was filed Friday.

The complaint reveals that the items seized at Dr. Capurro's Pierce Township home include 700 pre-stamped prescriptions for Lorcet, large amounts of cash and bank statements showing deposits of thousands of dollars.

The complaint also seeks the forfeiture of a luxury car and a 32-foot boat owned by Dr. Capurro.


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