Tonawanda News — When federal drug investigators raided a prominent North Tonawanda doctor’s office in August, at first no one really knew what was going on.
Four months later, Dr. Matthew Bennett continues to stand accused of illegally dispensing prescription medication out of his River Road office and Clarence home.
Federal authorities and local police swept into his office and residence on the morning of Aug. 10 to look for evidence, after several sales were allegedly made to undercover officers weeks earlier.
The family care physician was arrested by the agents that day. U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul said the 46-year-old doctor did not examine many of his patients when prescribing pills and would often trade items at his home such as toiletries and even a gas grill for opiate-based prescription medications including Roxicodone, Oxymorphone and Xanax.
In other instances, Hochul said, he would not give medical examinations and hand out prescription drugs through a back door of his office, while allowing patients to dictate the quantity and types of medications that were distributed, sometimes by abusing the Medicaid program.
Suspicions were raised by police after the arrest of several of Bennett’s patients for selling prescription drugs on the streets of Western New York during the last several years.
The Drug Enforcement Agency said an investigation was launched in February 2011.
Soon after, four undercover officers and a civilian began purchasing the drugs from Bennett in May 2012. Over the course of the next two months seven total transactions took place, officials said.
In July of this year, Bennett passed Oxymorphone in the driveway of his home on Hunting Valley Road in Clarence to an undercover agent in return for a large quantity of toilet paper and paper towels, and a week later another undercover officer delivered paper products to his office for prescription pills, when Bennett allegedly said he’d like to make similar exchanges on a weekly basis.
The authorities said they obtained more evidence against the doctor when he provided another round of prescription drugs, but only after two undercover officers delivered a gas grill to his Clarence home.
“I think you can see that Dr. Bennett used his prescription pad much like a checkbook,” Dale Kasprzyk, of the DEA, said at the time.
Bennett, who is Iranian born and educated in the Caribbean, operated out of the Wellness Park at 624 River Road. He had been practicing medicine in the United States for the past 10 years, while he had been located at the Lumber City office since 2012.
Bennett was released on bond after his arraignment before U.S. Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott on Friday, where he was charged with the unlawful distribution of controlled substance, which if convicted could land him a 20-year prison term, a $1 million fine or both. A trial has yet to be scheduled.
Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center has since converted Bennett’s former office into a satellite clinic and has offered to take over caring for his patients. It opened in September.