A New York City doctor has admitted to prescribing opioids to his patients in exchange for sexual favors, federal prosecutors announced on Wednesday.
Joseph Santiamo, 65, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute oxycodone after soliciting sex from young patients in exchange for writing them prescriptions for the controlled substance, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said in a statement. Santiamo admitted to the charge before U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp via a virtual hearing.
Santiamo's Pill Mill Side Hustle
The sleazy doctor owned and operated an internal medicine and geriatric care practice in Staten Island from 2012 to 2018 along with his side hustle as a pill mill – giving away narcotics prescriptions without a legitimate medical reason in exchange for cash.
However, he offered prescriptions to younger patients who were struggling with substance abuse in exchange for sexual favors. The DEA started investigating Santiamo in 2017 after learning that patients were travelling long distances to score powerful narcotics prescriptions and many of his patients were all below the age of 40 and would not normally be treated by a geriatric care physician.
"Santiamo wrote prescriptions for controlled substances in doses that far exceed what might be medically necessary for an ordinary patient," the complaint states.
"Many of these patients were dealing with pain and addiction, and instead of getting help from their doctor, they were drawn deeper into the cycle of drug abuse," said New Jersey US Attorney Craig Carpenito in a statement.
Facing 20 Years in Prison
Santiamo, who is free on a $250,000 bond, is scheduled to be sentenced on April 12, 2021, and could face a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
"This defendant not only violated his oath to help people, he took advantage of them when they were most vulnerable for his own selfish needs," said DEA Special Agent in Charge Susan Gibson. "The only difference between him and a person who deals drugs on the street is the white lab coat he wears."
Santiamo's lawyer Joe Tacopina said his client had made mistakes but he is a good man. "Dr. Santiamo's lack of judgment was not motivated by greed," the attorney said. "He accepted responsibility for his conduct, and that conduct doesn't define who he is: a kind and caring man who devoted his life to improving the welfare of others."