Three Philly-area defendants charged in federal opioid crackdown

BIZ-PURDUE-PHARMA-HC
OxyContin, in 80 mg pills, in a 2013 file image.

Three local men, including an anesthesiology technologist at a Philadelphia hospital, were arrested this week in connection with an opioid pill ring that, authorities said, trafficked more than 1,000 pills over six months this year.

Anthony Pepe III, 40, of Cherry Hill, the anesthesiology technologist; Daniel Watson, 39, of Bellmawr; and Prussia Hing, 35, of Philadelphia, were arrested Tuesday after an informant and undercover officers allegedly watched them deal pills on eight occasions — sometimes in front of the hospital where Pepe worked. Authorities did not specify the hospital in court documents.

All three men were charged with conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute oxycodone. An FBI agent wrote in a criminal complaint that Hing supplied Pepe with pills that Pepe then sold to Watson, who in turn sold the pills to an informant. The complaint did not allege that Pepe had sold pills taken from the hospital as well. At one point, he told Watson in a recorded conversation that he could get the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl in the hospital, but “not enough to supply a corner.”

Fentanyl is an especially powerful opioid that has legitimate uses but is implicated in overdose deaths in people who may have thought they were taking heroin — or even crack cocaine. Many have wondered why dealers would adulterate their product with a substance that could kill their customers, or even if they’re doing it on purpose.

In the recorded conversation, Pepe offered a theory about fentanyl’s properties that others dispute.

“Fentanyl is more addicting than heroin, that’s why you cut it with the fentanyl,” Pepe told Watson. ” ‘Cause when you cut that’s what they want. … Because it’s making them come back for more, so instead of doing one bag now you’re doing four or five bags.”

Federal authorities didn’t catch the men trafficking in fentanyl, though: Most of the pills the informant bought were unadulterated oxycodone. The rest were a combination of the opioid painkillers hydrocodone and codeine, and methylphenidate, a stimulant commonly known as Ritalin.

The men were arrested as part of a wide-ranging federal sting that also charged 601 people across 58 federal districts in health-care fraud schemes. Altogether, 162 people, including 76 doctors, were charged in schemes to prescribe or distribute opioids and other drugs.