An opioid-addicted nurse at a Tarentum neurology practice stole a doctor’s prescription pad and forged 118 prescriptions for 12,000 painkiller pills over the past four years, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro said .
Sylvia Marino, 53, of Leechburg, was charged Tuesday with insurance fraud, theft by deception, forgery and drug offenses, court records show.
Marino has been an infusion nurse at Valley Neurology Inc.’s office on First Avenue since 2011. She is accused of using a blank prescription pad that belonged to a doctor at the practice where she worked, Dr. Elliot Michel, to forge prescriptions without him knowing, a criminal complaint shows.
Marino faked prescriptions to obtain hydrocodone, oxycodone and Xanax in the name of herself, her daughter and her colleague, Melissa Riggle.
Riggle, 37, of Lower Burrell, a medical assistant at Valley Neurology since 2014, faces charges of insurance fraud and drug offenses.
She is accused of filling prescriptions for Xanax and hydrocodone in her name that she knew had been forged by Marino using Dr. Michel’s prescription pad.
Attorneys for Marino and Riggle did not return requests for comment.
Dr. Michel declined to comment through his Tarentum office manager.
A Giant Eagle pharmacist in Leechburg became suspicious on a weekend last April when Marino made repeated requests to fill a hydrocodone prescription for her daughter early.
The following Monday, the pharmacist got hold of Dr. Michel at his New Castle office and informed him that in addition to Marino’s insistence on filling her daughter’s prescription early, Marino herself had been receiving hydrocodone and oxycodone prescribed by Dr. Michel for years.
Marino has never been a patient of Dr. Michel, the complaint said. Her daughter was, but Michel told authorities he never prescribed her daughter oxycodone or hydrocodone.
Michel saw Riggle as a patient just once in 2014, when he prescribed her medication to treat migraines. The doctor said he never prescribed her Xanax or hydrocodone, never had a conversation with her about taking them and never knew she was.
Giant Eagle’s pharmacy security department referred the case to the insurance fraud section of the state Attorney General’s Office.
“Because of these professionals’ vigilance, our agents and other police were able to identify and end these fraudulent prescriptions,” Shapiro said in a statement. “We’re asking pharmacists and medical professionals across our commonwealth: If you see something wrong, tell us. We’ll act on your information.”
Records obtained by investigators from pharmacies in New Kensington, Harrison , Leechburg and Vandergrift showed that between March 2014 and April, Marino faked 118 prescriptions for 12,000 hydrocodone and oxycodone pills for personal use, plus fraudulent Xanax and narcotic prescriptions for Riggle’s use.
When Dr. Michel and Michelle Watkins, the practice’s office manager, confronted Marino about the prescriptions, she told them that she “was hooked on the pills, and that her daughter had no knowledge of it,” the complaint said. Marino said she was sorry and declined their offer to get her addiction treatment, saying that “she was going to get help on her own.”
Marino, a registered nurse for 31 years, told investigators that she never sold or distributed the pills and that no one in her family knew what she was doing, the complaint said.
Marino said she started writing prescriptions for Riggle about two years ago to help with Riggle’s migraines and mental stressors, including going through a divorce. Riggle would then give Marino about 10 hydrocodone pills and a few Xanax each month, the complaint said.
Dr. Michel told investigators that he’s known Marino for 20 years through work in various medical facilities, she was a “good employee” and he had no idea that she was forging prescriptions.
Michel said he signs blank prescriptions so his medical staff can provide them to his patients when he is out of the office. In June, he told investigators that he now keeps those prescription pads locked.
In 2003, Marino was arrested for stealing four oxycodone pills from UPMC St. Margaret hospital near Aspinwall, court records show. She paid a $1,200 fine and attended a drug addiction treatment program for medical professionals.
Preliminary hearings for both Marino and Riggle have been scheduled for Dec. 13.
Shapiro says arrests of doctors and other health care workers involving the illegal diversion of prescription drugs has increased 72 percent under his tenure.
“My office is committed to prosecuting drug dealers, whether they’re operating on street corners, in doctors’ offices — or from behind an illegally obtained prescription pad,” Shapiro said in a statement.
Other unrelated cases announced
Shapiro also announced Wednesday two other unrelated cases involving prescription fraud.
Joyce Gallagher, 53, of Pittsburgh’s Mt. Washington neighborhood was charged with insurance fraud and drug offenses. She is for filling 92 fake prescriptions for more than 2,900 oyxcodone and hydrocodone pills, Shapiro said.
Gallagher, a former employee of an oral surgery practice, had been faking prescriptions in the names of her father, sisters, brother-in-law and nephew, the complaint said.
Separately, Corina Hoggard, 44, of Franklin Park, was charged with insurance fraud and drug offenses. She is accused of filling 54 fraudulent prescriptions for oxycodone, hydrocodone and other drugs using she and her husband’s names at Rite Aid and Walgreens pharmacies in Butler County.
The attorney general’s insurance fraud and drug strike force sections will be prosecuting the cases.
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, [email protected] or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.