A receptionist and an alleged drug dealer were among the 27 people indicted in the bust of a major drug operation that officials say used a doctor’s office as its foundation.
Police say 28-year-old Heather Herzstein, of Folcroft, Pennsylvania, 34-year-old Colise Harmon of Philadelphia, and 33-year-old Leon Little of Cherry Hill, worked with residents from a local housing project to distribute hundreds of thousands of Oxycodone pills to the Philadelphia streets.
“It was a very sophisticated and well-orchestrated operation,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Louis Lappen during a press conference announcing the arrests.
According to investigators, Herzstein, a receptionist at a doctor's office, and Harmon helped Little, a drug dealer, recruit residents from the Raymond Rosen Housing Project in North Philadelphia. Police say the residents then visited the Philadelphia doctor whom Herzstein worked for. NBC10 is not naming that doctor because he has not been charged with a crime.
The residents then allegedly pretended to be injured and asked for prescription drugs such as Oxycodone and Xanax. The doctor then wrote prescriptions for the drugs, believing they were in legitimate pain, according to investigators.
“These were patients who were going to go and pose in front of a doctor as someone who had been in a serious accident and needed Oxycodone,” Lappen said.
Once they received the prescriptions, police say the residents then turned them over to Little who then distributed the drugs to various parts of Philadelphia.
Between August of 2010 and August of 2012, Little, Herzstein, and Harmon allegedly distributed 380,000 Oxycodone pills. The trio, who police say called themselves the Little Drug Operation(LDO) earned about $3 million in the process.
Investigators say at one point, Herzstein began to forge the doctor’s name on prescriptions. Police also say she always vouched for the fake patients whenever pharmacies called the office to question the prescriptions.
“With a corrupt employee in a doctor’s office, the Little operation held a kingdom,” Lappen said. “He was able to get an unlimited supply of Oxycodone.”
Officials also say Harmon was the one who drove the fake patients to the doctor and to specific pharmacies in Philadelphia to have the prescriptions filled.
According to a separate indictment, 36-year-old Aminah Shabazz of Cherry Hill, took the LDO drug proceeds and gave $26,970 in cash to a third party who deposited the cash into a bank account. Officials say the third party then received a certified check made out to Lemin Consulting, LLC, a business operated by Shabazz and Little, for $27,000. Officials say Shabazz then deposited the certified check into the bank account for Lemin Consulting, LLC in Philadelphia in an attempt to conceal the proceeds from the drug dealing.
Officials have not revealed how they busted the operation. They do say however that the DEA, IRS Criminal Investigation Division, FBI, Philadelphia Police Department and North Coventry Police Department were all involved in the investigation.
Herzstein, Harmon and Little were all charged with conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, distribution of Oxycodone and acquiring a controlled substance by fraud. They all face the possibility of life in prison if convicted.
Shabazz is charged with money laundering and could face 33 months to 41 months if convicted.
Pennsylvania ranks 14th in the country in prescription drug overdose deaths. Officials with the DEA say addiction rates are growing so fast, prescription drug abuse is now considered an epidemic.