Two defense attorneys Monday criticized Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner’s public comments about a grand jury investigation into alleged prescription-drug fraud in three shore towns.
Tyner did not respond directly to the lawyers’ criticism but issued a statement, saying, “The Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office has already stated its position on this ongoing investigation.”
Attorneys Bill Hughes and Jerry Ballarotto, who spoke to both The Press of Atlantic City and WOND Monday morning, say they have advised clients in both the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office investigation and a separate federal probe.
Neither would discuss specifics, but both said rumors surrounding the investigation have been rampant and that Tyner’s comments last week about the scope and size of the investigation stirred even more speculation.
Hughes said many of the people in the probe have had to deal with rumors “that this person is involved, that person is involved or that hundreds of people may be arrested.”
“Unfortunately, Prosecutor Tyner’s statement has only fueled the rumors, and saying that a hundred people could be arrested, that is going to have an impact on his investigation. It’s going have an impact on the federal investigation,” Hughes said. “We think that people should be leaving the statements out of it and let the investigators do their job.”
Ballarotto, a former special agent in the U.S. Secret Service and deputy attorney general, echoed the charge.
“We don’t conduct an investigation. The government conducts the investigation,” Ballarotto said. “That is why when the prosecutor rightfully points out that people should not be spreading rumors and then in the next 30 seconds speculates about the outcome of a grand jury investigation, which is secret by definition, (it) is really problematic.”
The two also discussed the issue of drug compounding, a process where a pharmacist or doctor alters or mixes ingredients into a custom drug for a patient. The compound medications can cost thousands of dollars, payable by prescription plans. They’ve also been been the subject of criminal prosecutions, including ones where compounding pharmacies paid middlemen or doctors to push sale of the more expensive medication.
Hughes said that investigating compounding medicines, a legal activity, is a complex issue, made even more complicated by a lack of regulation.
On July 31, the Prosecutor’s Office announced Atlantic County grand jury subpoenas had been issued to Atlantic City, Ventnor and Margate looking into city employees’ health-insurance information.
They are the same three towns from which federal investigators sought health-insurance prescription information.
The FBI has declined to comment about its investigation, which had sought the information before the county.
In discussing his investigation into alleged prescription-benefit fraud, the prosecutor said the probe could widen to include doctors, pharmaceutical representatives and compounded drugs.
Tyner’s estimates of targets in his probe have varied, from hundreds to his most recent assessment of several dozen.
Hughes and Ballarotto spoke during WOND’s Don Williams Show in a segment in which WOND News Director David Spatz and Press of Atlantic City Managing Editor Buzz Keough were able to ask questions following their statements.