CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Dr. John Costino often engaged in small talk with his new patient, Tanya Smith, but what he didn’t know was that those conversations were being recorded.
Smith was the alias being used by undercover Little Egg Harbor Township police Officer Tanya Anderson as she posed as an exotic dancer in a 2007 operation led by the Drug Enforcement Administration into Costino’s practice in North Wildwood.
The plan was to get Costino to prescribe the drug Percocet for no legitimate medical purpose, and the prosecution in Costino’s drug distribution and health care claims fraud trial argues he did just that.
“He listened to my heart and lungs for a period of two breaths and that was my examination,” Anderson told jurors Monday as Assistant Prosecutor Dara Paley asked about the extent of her examination by Costino.
Monday was spent alternating between the taped conversations, which all took place in Costino’s Surf Avenue office, and testimony from Anderson about what took place in the doctor’s office.
The 17 jurors followed along with transcripts of the recorded visits.
The first meeting between Costino and Anderson took place April 12, 2007.
Anderson told the jury that she told the doctor “that I had no medical problems.”
She then told Costino she had been taking a friend’s pills and was seeking her own prescription for Percocet, a painkiller and controlled substance.
Anderson told Costino she was a dancer in Atlantic City and that she needed the drug “to unwind after work.”
“Was there any mention of pain?” Paley asked.
“No,” Anderson said.
Costino did tell her that “if you don’t have pain, you don’t want Percocet,” but Anderson told him the drug had worked for her.
Costino also told her about the drug’s addictive qualities and was concerned about her being a smoker, but by the end of the visit she left with a prescription for Percocet.
Anderson would return to the office a handful of times, both alone and with a second undercover investigator also posing as a dancer.
The visits were sometimes billed as extended physical comprehensive exams and Anderson told jurors that while the patient records indicated she had a temperature of 98.6 and a pulse of around 70 the doctor never took her temperature or her pulse. The patient forms, she said, also indicated she was checked for any problems with her spine, but she said the doctor never examined her back.
Paley asked about each visit and what examination took place, and each time Anderson repeated a similar refrain. “He listened to my heart and lungs for a period of two breaths,” she said.
The conversations ranged from talk about the weather and Costino’s love of fishing to Las Vegas and the forest fires going on around the country that summer.
Along the way, Costino did offer warnings telling Anderson to “be careful on the medicine” and warning of its addictive nature.
“Let me just caution you to be careful with the medication,” Costino warned Anderson and the second undercover officer, who were treated together in the same room.
On their last visit, Aug. 23, 2007, the pair told Costino they were heading to Florida for a couple of months or longer and Costino agreed to give them a larger prescription.
The women also asked about another, more powerful drug for pain, Oxycontin, but Costino warned against it.
“It’s a problem drug,” he told them.
They talked about Florida and the up-and-coming areas of the state and then Costino wished them well, advising them as they left, “be careful with the medication.”
Anderson will return to the witness stand today when defense attorney John Tumelty will have the opportunity to cross-examine her on her testimony.
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