A prominent Florida oncologist was arrested last month, and some members of the medical community are puzzled.
Michael Dattoli, MD, a radiation oncologist and physician-in-chief of the Dattoli Cancer Center in Sarasota, Florida, has been charged with prescription and insurance fraud, according to the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office.
The charges include three counts of possessing a controlled substance by fraud, three counts of criminal use of personal identification information, and three counts of insurance fraud.
Dattoli was arrested on December 16.
According to investigators, a former employee of the Dattoli Cancer Center alleged that Dattoli filled prescriptions for diazepam (Valium) three times in his wife’s name using a different healthcare provider’s information.
Some experts find it bizarre for a physician of his stature to have possibly engaged in such a transgression — a relatively minor fraud that comes with serious consequences.
“This is a very well-respected physician who has done a lot of good in the community, and this makes no sense at all,” said Jay Wolfson, PhD, JD, Distinguished Service Professor of Public Health Medicine and Pharmacy and associate vice president for health law, policy, and safety at the University of South Florida, Tampa. “It’s low-level fraud, and not like he was laundering money or involved in pill mills, which has been problematic in Florida.”
According to recent accounts from local news agencies, in August 2021, the Sarasota police connected with investigators from the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office’s Pharmaceutical Diversion Unit regarding prescription fraud dating back to 2019 and 2020 involving Dattoli and a “victim.”
The victim, a former employee of the Dattoli Cancer Center, had left his job at the end of 2020 after 5 years. His name and position at the cancer center were redacted in the arrest warrant, but the warrant mentions that he treated patients while he worked at the center.
The former employee told police that when checking the Florida prescription drug database for controlled substances in September 2021, he noticed that several fraudulent prescriptions for diazepam — a controlled substance — had been entered from 2020. The recipient was Dattoli’s wife, Rita Beatrice Dattoli, but the former employee stated he had never authorized these prescriptions and that Dattoli’s wife was never his patient.
In September 2021, the police obtained copies of multiple prescriptions from local pharmacies that were phoned in throughout 2020 by the Dattoli Cancer Center. The prescriptions were filled and picked up the same day by Dattoli himself, whose identity had been verified by his driver’s license.
Dattoli’s wife, who was interviewed by the police in October 2021, stated she had never been a patient at the center, that the prescription was not hers, and that she had never used the prescribed drug.
A month later, the Sarasota police subpoenaed bank records that matched accounts belonging to Dattoli, which showed the same dates, total purchase price, and stores where fraudulent prescriptions were filled, picked up, and purchased.
None of this really makes any sense, Wolfson told Medscape Medical News. “Any physician in need of Valium doesn’t have to forge a prescription, he can get it from any of his colleagues,” he noted. “And why put it in his wife’s name? He also submitted it to his insurance, which leaves more of a paper trail. And he didn’t need to have insurance pay for it — Valium is a very inexpensive drug.”
Plus, Wolfson added, “I know people who have been treated by Dr Dattoli and they have nothing but good things to say about him — he’s an excellent doctor with a great bedside manner. His record is clean, he’s never been reprimanded, he’s built a successful practice, and then this thing just parachutes out of the sky.”
The investigation is ongoing, and detectives from the Sarasota police department have stated that they “believe there may be additional victims.”
Dattoli was released the day after his arrest on a $1500 bond. His arraignment is scheduled for January 22. If convicted, he could face prison time, fines, or even lose his license to practice medicine.
Wolfson added that the arraignment is the first step in the process. “But even if it can be determined that he forged a signature, I don’t think it will rise to a level where his license will be revoked,” he said.
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