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Former Needham Doctor, Nurse Indicted In 6 Deaths

NEEDHAM (CBS) - A former Needham doctor and his nurse practitioner have been indicted by federal prosecutors for prescribing dangerous medication for a profit that allegedly led to the deaths of six patients.

Doctor Joseph Zolot and nurse practitioner Lisa Pliner are charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances.

They will be arraigned in U.S. District Court in Boston Thursday afternoon.

WBZ-TV's Beth Germano reports.

The grand jury indictment claims, over a six-year period beginning in 2001, Zolot and Pliner wrote out prescriptions for methadone, oxycodone, and fentanyl to patients who did not have any medical need for the narcotics and were knowingly abusing them or dealing them.

Court documents say the two would prescribe enough drugs to get patients addicted, forcing them to return for additional doses.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030's Bernice Corpuz reports.


Authorities say Zolot and Pliner would charge patients about $300 for their initial visit and about $125 for any subsequent visits.

His lawyer says Dr. Zolot was a political refugee who came here from the Soviet Union in the late 1970's. The government says in its indictment he, "…provided prescriptions for controlled substances to individuals through (his) medical practice"...and that, "methadone distributed by defendants Zolot and Pliner did result in the deaths of six men:

Dennis Dillon, 36, Died 2004
Jeffrey Campbell, 26, Died 2005
Thomas Dunphy, 49, Died 2005
James Curley, 44, Died 2005
Christopher Bartoloni, 35, Died 2006
Scot Poulack, 39, Died 2006

The indictment alleges that at least six of those cases resulted in the patients' addiction, deteriorated health, overdose, and eventual death.

In 2001, one patient's insurance company sent Zolot a letter questioning his prescription practices, but, according to the indictment, Zolot never responded.

Zolot's Needham office was raided by the FBI and DEA in May 2007 after which he gave up his medical license. But his attorney says he maintains his innocence.

"And in a practice like Dr. Zolot's, where people were coming to him for very, very serious problems and pain management, it was inevitable that there would be some unfortunate results but those were unfortunate medical results," said attorney Howard Cooper.

Zolot's wife and Pliner's husband left the courthouse with no comment. Pliner's attorney had little more to say. "We will be pleading not guilty to all charges and she looks forward to vindicating her rights in front of a jury."

The U.S. Attorney had no comment. The maximum sentence the doctor and his nurse practitioner face is life in prison that carries a 20-year minimum.

WBZ-TV's Ron Sanders contributed to this report.

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