Claude Fanelli Jr.
Claude Fanelli Jr.

A former Hershey cardiologist has pleaded guilty to his role in an oxycodone drug ring that police allege was masterminded by a York City woman.

Claude Fanelli Jr., 57, of 6485 Gallop Road in Harrisburg, pleaded guilty Monday in York County Court to prescribing a controlled substance not in accordance with accepted treatment principles and conspiracy to deliver oxycodone.

Fanelli previously worked at the Penn State Hershey Heart and Vascular Institute.

His sentencing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Dec. 30.

Officials allege Donna Essis-Danfora, 50, of 941 S. Pine St. in York City, was in charge of the prescription forgery ring.

Donna Essis-Danfora
Donna Essis-Danfora

Her criminal case has not yet been resolved, and she remains charged with counts of oxycodone delivery and running a corrupt organization, according to court records.

It's estimated the ring illegally sold about 4,400 narcotic oxycodone pills at $20 to $30 a tablet between February 2012 and April 2012, according to a statewide grand jury presentment. The pills had an estimated street value of $111,000, officials said.

The scheme: Essis-Danfora bought blank, pre-signed prescriptions from Fanelli for $1,000 per prescription, then gave him the names of people who would be filling those fraudulent prescriptions so he would be able to verify the narcotics prescriptions with area pharmacies, according to state prosecutors.

She recruited at least eight people, including her son, to fill the fraudulent prescriptions at pharmacies in York, Cumberland, Lancaster and Dauphin counties, prosecutors allege. She would then illegally sell the pills, according to the grand jury presentment.


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During his guilty plea, Fanelli told presiding Common Pleas Judge Gregory M. Snyder that at first, he believed Essis-Danfora wanted the pills for personal use, but admitted he later realized what she allegedly was doing.

"She did give me money ... I believe about four, five times," he said. "I did not report myself or turn myself in."

'Preyed upon': Fanelli's attorney, William Fulton, said Fanelli voluntarily surrendered both his medical license and his license through the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Fulton said his client was diagnosed at age 42 with Parkinson's disease and was prescribed a drug to treat it that has been shown to cause obsessive-compulsive behavior in people who have never struggled with compulsions before.

Fanelli had never gone to a casino in his life prior to taking the medication, but started to afterward and became a gambling addict, according to Fulton.

"(Essis-Danfora) preyed upon his problem," the attorney said.

Suspicious nurse: Law enforcement first got wind of the ring's activities in March 2012, in two separate incidents.

First, a nurse who was working with Fanelli noticed they were getting numerous phone calls from pharmacies verifying prescriptions written by Fanelli, according to the presentment. The nurse reported concerns after realizing many of the people named on the prescriptions weren't Fanelli's patients, the presentment states.

Also, on March 20, 2012, Spring Garden Township Police Officer Keith Lightner investigated a fraudulent prescription someone tried to pass that day at a township pharmacy, according to the presentment.

Lightner spoke with Fanelli, who said the men trying to pass the prescription were friends of his niece, and that he gave them three signed, blank scripts "as a favor," the presentment states.

After that, investigators began identifying and interviewing more alleged members of the ring, and used a confidential informant to buy pills from Essis-Danfora, according to the presentment.

College campus: Alleged ring members Gregg Williams and Travis Thorpe, both of Benton, Ky., sold oxycodone pills to students at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster County, according to the presentment, which states Williams was a student there. Both men were charged.

Thorpe previously testified before the grand jury, telling them he bought oxycodone from Essis-Danfora more than a hundred times, the presentment states.

Thorpe testified Essis-Danfora paid Fanelli for the blank scripts and said he witnessed Fanelli instruct Essis-Danfora on how to fill them out, according to the presentment.

-- Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com.