Donna Essis-Danfora
Donna Essis-Danfora

A York City woman masterminded a prescription drug forgery ring with help from a Hershey cardiologist and "runners" she recruited to fill the phony prescriptions, according to the state attorney general's office.

It's estimated the prescription forgery 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.

Donna Essis-Danfora, 49, of 941 S. Pine St., was arraigned Thursday morning by District Judge Scott Laird on charges of including three counts of delivering oxycodone and one count each of running a corrupt organization, dealing in proceeds of unlawful activity, fraud, forgery and deception or subterfuge.

Dr. Claude Fanelli Jr.
Dr. Claude Fanelli Jr.

No one answered the door of Essus-Danfora's home Thursday and she didn't return a phone message seeking comment. It's unclear whether she's retained an attorney.

Cardiologist Claude Fanelli Jr., 56, of 6485 Gallop Road in Harrisburg, is charged with prescribing a controlled substance not in accordance with accepted treatment principles, delivery of oxycodone, conspiracy to deliver oxycodone, fraud, forgery, deception or subterfuge, and conspiracy to deliver oxycodone by misrepresentation.

He also was arraigned Thursday morning by Laird and is free on $50,000 unsecured bail. He previously worked at the Penn State Hershey Heart and Vascular Institute, 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 the 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.

Essis-Danfora also came up with other ways to pass fraudulent prescriptions, according to the grand jury presentment, including enlisting people to "doctor shop," meaning visit different doctors to obtain prescriptions for narcotic pain medication.

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

Suspicious nurse: 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, 23, and Travis Thorpe, 22, 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 Williams and Thorpe were arraigned on charges Thursday, according to Laird's office.

Thorpe previously testified before the grand jury, telling them he was introduced to Essis-Danfora by Williams, and estimated he bought oxycodone from her more than a hundred times, the presentment states.

Thorpe also told the grand jury Essis-Danfora's son, Wadie Danfora, threatened to harm him if he "talked" about the ring, the presentment states.

He said he was instructed to make appointments with doctors and say he had pain in order to get a narcotics prescription, and said Essis-Danfora had other sources for prescriptions as well, including from someone who worked in the office of a Baltimore doctor.

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.

Gambling problem? Fanelli had financial problems, according to the presentment.

"Dr. Fanelli stated that he met (Essis-Danfora) at the Hollywood Casino and struggled with a gambling addiction that led him to be in debt," the presentment states; the doctor also admitted being paid by her for signed, blank scripts.

Bill Fulton, Fanelli's defense attorney, said it's too soon to comment about the allegations.

However, he noted that Fanelli cooperated with investigators and voluntarily surrendered his medical license.

Others charged, or facing charges including fraud, forgery, and oxycodone possession, are:

* Wadie Danfora, 23, of 941 S. Pine St. in York City

* April Williams, 43, of 653 Lincoln St. in York City

* David Stewart, 58, last-known address was 941 S. Pine St.

* Wilfredo Sanchez Jr., 27, last-known address was 941 S. Pine St.

* Joseph Parker, 22, last-known address in the 100 block of South Front Street in York Haven

* Amanda Tsykalyuk, 29, last-known address in the 100 block of South Front Street in York Haven

* Eric Sargen, 44, of Elizabethtown, Lancaster County.

Assisting state investigators were York Area Regional Police, Spring Garden Township Police and other agencies.

-- Staff writer Liz Evans Scolforo can also be reached at levans@yorkdispatch.com.