North Wildwood physician John Costino took the witness stand in his own defense earlier this week in his drug distribution and healthcare claims fraud trial. (Dale Gerhard/Press of Atlantic City)

Dale Gerhard

CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE -- A jury deliberated for about two hours Thursday before finding North Wildwood Dr. John Costino not guilty of drug distribution and healthcare claims fraud.

The case involved undercover officers posing as exotic dancers during visits to Costino's office.

Costino sat quietly as the jury forewoman read not guilty sixteen times as Superior Court Judge Raymond Batten asked for the verdicts.

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Costino’s wife, Barbara, was not in the courtroom as the verdict was read, but in the hallway outside she hugged Costino and cried out, “Oh my God,” after hearing that he had been found not guilty.

Costino did not wish to comment Thursday, but his defense attorney, John Tumelty, called the jury’s decision a victory for doctors.

“I think it’s a huge win for doctors and a message that they should be more concerned about practicing medicine without having to worry about becoming a target for overzealous law enforcement investigations,” Tumelty said.

He continued, “This was just a bad investigation, incompetently executed.”

Costino, who began practicing after graduating from medical school in 1971, was arrested on Sept. 14, 2007, at his North Wildwood practice on Surf Avenue.

Costino would eventually be indicted on four separate occasions. Two of those indictments were dismissed and a third was voluntarily withdrawn by the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office.

The many indictments and motions in the case delayed a trial date. Ultimately, five prosecutors were involved at one point or another in the case since Costino’s arrest.

The quick verdict after so many years, Tumelty said, speaks volumes “about the way government agencies went about targeting Dr. Costino.”

Investigators sent two undercover officers, posing as exotic dancers, into Costino’s office between April 12 and Aug. 23, 2007, and had them ask for Percocet. Costino prescribed the controlled drug to the women who he testified presented him with legitimate concerns given the nature of their physically demanding jobs.

The investigation involved the DEA, the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Little Egg Harbor Township Police Department.

Costino had his license revoked in 2009, but Tumelty said Thursday that Costino is expected to get his license returned to him in December.

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