CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Before an undercover officer ever set foot in Dr. John Costino’s office, 11 law enforcement officers representing four federal, county and local police agencies met at the Cape May County Prosecutor's Office.
"All 11 of you (were) sitting around in the Prosecutor's Office talking about targeting one guy, Dr. Costino," defense attorney John Tumelty said as he questioned Tanya Anderson, the first of two undercover officers posing as exotic dancers who took part in the investigation.
The Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, county Prosecutor's Office and Little Egg Harbor Police Department were each represented at that meeting, held before Anderson would make her first trip to the doctor's office in North Wildwood on April 12, 2007.
By the end of the investigation, Costino, 68, would find himself charged with multiple counts of drug distribution and health care claims insurance fraud.
As Costino's trial on those charges continued Tuesday, Tumelty said that Costino ultimately prescribed the painkiller Percocet to Anderson because he believed her story about being a woman who worked a physically demanding job in need of relief.
"Doctors are trained to believe what the patient tells them," Tumelty said.
Jurors were allowed to hear the conversation between Costino and Anderson in which she said she was a dancer seeking to establish herself with a doctor.
"When you say physical, what are you looking for, hon? What do you need," Costino asked.
Anderson talked about being on her feet all day and working long hours then using Percocet to relax.
Costino can be heard telling Anderson that she used the pills "because it takes your pain away." Anderson replied, "Uh huh."
Costino initially refused her request, suggesting alternatives such as Valium, but Anderson continued, motivated, Tumelty argued, by her desire to further her career.
"The doctor was trying to do the right thing with you at that point," Tumelty said, adding that Costino told her that the drug could be addictive.
Anderson told him, "I will only take it on the nights that I work."
Tumelty said she played the part of a woman who needed the drug for relief of the symptoms she was experiencing from a strenuous job, but nothing she said was true.
"This whole investigation is built on lie after lie," Tumelty said.
"Weren't you trying to make him believe you were a sharp young woman coming to him for help," Tumelty asked.
"Yes," Anderson replied.
Tumelty pointed out that Costino can be heard warning her against taking more than one pill at a time and repeating his warning about their addictive nature.
That first meeting ended on friendly terms.
"You're a good kid," Costino told Anderson.
"Thanks," she said.
"And just be careful now," Costino said.
Anderson would meet with Costino several more times through August and on two occasions with another officer present.
Costino was arrested that September and now faces nine counts of drug distribution, a third-degree crime, and seven counts of healthcare claims fraud, a second-degree crime.
The trial is expected to continue into next week.
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