Key Largo pill-mill doctor gets a year and a half in prison

A federal jury found an Ocean Reef doctor accused of overprescribing pain medication to patients at South Florida pill mills not guilty of all charges but one -- conspiracy to commit money laundering.

The April 1 verdict was greeted as a victory by lawyers representing Joseph Castronuovo, 74, who lives in a $425,000 condo in the Fishermen's Cove area of Ocean Reef in North Key Largo. Also convicted was Dr. Cynthia Cadet, 43, of Parkland in northwest Broward.

The doctors had worked for American Pain in Fort Lauderdale and Executive Pain in Lake Worth until the clinics were shut down as part of a federal pill-mill bust in 2010.

Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Marra sentenced Castronuovo to 18 months in prison and Cadet to 6.5 years.

Prosecutors accused the two doctors of using their medical licenses to lend professional clout to what was essentially a drug-dealing operation.

Patients scored large amounts of oxycodone and other painkillers from doctors who performed cursory exams and did little to verify that the drugs were necessary, the federal investigation found. In many cases, the patients turned around and sold the drugs on the street.

More than two dozen clinic employees, doctors and managers pleaded guilty to related charges in the case. Some, including clinic owner Christopher George, testified against Castronuovo and Cadet during their two-month trial.

Castronuovo and Cadet, the only clinic employees who did not plead out, denied being part of or even knowing about a conspiracy to illegally distribute drugs. Each claimed they prescribed medications based on need.

The allegations were severe: Cadet was accused of prescribing drugs that led to the deaths of seven patients. Castronuovo's prescriptions led to two deaths, prosecutors said.

The indictment said Castronuovo caused the deaths of painkiller customers Tommy Wayne Harris and Michael Grant by prescribing "a quantity of oxycodone ... outside the scope of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose."

Both physicians also were charged with conspiracy to possess controlled substances and providing oxycodone to people under age 21, among other things. Each faced life in prison and a fine of up to $2 million if convicted of the most serious charges.

But jurors at the federal courthouse in West Palm Beach did not believe there was enough evidence to warrant a conviction on the conspiracy and drug charges.

Still, "He's disappointed," said Thomas Sclafani, Castronuovo's lawyer. "He's not as disappointed as he could have been."

Castronuovo is planning to appeal his conviction. Cadet's appealing hers, as well.