ATLANTIC CITY - His prescription pad says Dr. Manuel Nigalan, but many knew the man as "Dr. Feel Good," according to a 65-page complaint that paints the picture of a drug dealer with a medical license.
Nigalan didn't list himself as a pain specialist, but his high rate of prescribing narcotics told another story, a Drug Enforcement Administration-led investigation found.
The Northfield man was arrested Tuesday along with his security guard, Lonnie Sanders, DEA Special Agent Douglas Collier said Wednesday. Agents also seized all the records from Nigalan's fifth-floor office at 1 S. New York Ave.
Nigalan and Sanders are charged with conspiracy to distribute oxycodone. They are both free on bond.
The investigation includes tapes showing that Nigalan would see patients for about three to five minutes each and that the patients would leave with prescriptions for whatever they wanted, according to the complaint obtained by The Press of Atlantic City. Some would take the drugs to feed their own addictions; others would sell them, including making deals on the street outside Nigalan's office, the complaint alleges.
The complaint contains interviews with patients who cooperated with the investigations, as well as allegations from nurse practitioner Susan Franklin, who shared patients with Nigalan. She said she tried to get him to stop prescribing to those she described as addicts.
But the complaint says the practice continued.
Patients would travel far to see Nigalan, the wo-man told lead investigator Thomas Prevoznik. "Nigalan was known in the health care profession, as well as among patients, as 'Dr. Feel Good.'"
Percocet, Xanax and sleep-related drugs such Valium and Ambien were apparently his patients' drugs of choice, according to the complaint.
"It was nothing but organized drug dealing," according to a quote from a Margate patient. The reception area was a "junkie convention."
Nigalan, who specializes in emergency medicine, first got his medical license in 1971, according to records available through the Attorney General's Office Web site. He was first licensed in New Jersey in 1974.
"He hid behind his medical license and his white lab coat to camouflage his criminal activity," Collier said Wednesday.
It seems Margate police first learned of Nigalan on June 29, 2006, when a confidential source told them he paid $80 and received four prescriptions with no examination, according to the complaint.
On Sept. 25 of that year, Atlantic City police arrested a man who had about 300 pills containing controlled substances, the complaint says. He told them he would go to Nigalan's office about two or three times a month, pay $65 and get any prescription he asked for.
The complaint, written by DEA Special Agent Mark Wassmuth, is filled with similar stories.
Atlantic City pharmacies stopped filling Nigalan's prescriptions, it says. Nigalan also told patients not to go to any Eckerd, because they, too, were turning away anything with his name on it.
By the end of last summer, Nigalan apparently started to worry about his practice, according to the complaint.
During an Aug. 1 visit, he told a patient who was actually working with the investigation through the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office that he had been getting calls from pharmacies in Philadelphia asking why patients from here were filling them there.
"I can't," he told the patient about writing a prescription. "I get calls every time. ... He says, you are doing all this ... it's overprescribing ... They don't care about how you feel."
Nigalan eventually wrote a prescription for a different dosage, according to the complaint.
On Sept. 3, 2008, that same patient was made to take a urine test before meeting with the doctor. Nigalan told him it was the law, which the complaint confirms. The random tests are meant to determine that the patient is taking the prescribed dose and not taking any illegal drugs.
"I have dropped at least 20 people ... because what (is) happening, too, is they sell this medicine and buy cocaine or heroin," Nigalan is quoted as saying. "That's why it's a ... it's a law. I could have done it sooner. ... Since I have been getting a lot of flak lately and I'm finding out that it's true."
Nigalan also did some work with AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center's City Campus, according to online records. But the report makes no mention of AtlantiCare.
Hospital spokeswoman Jennifer Tornetta said Nigalan is a member of the medical staff, but is not an employee of AtlantiCare. The group had not heard of the doctor's arrest.
Nigalan did not return a message left at his home Wednesday evening. The number for his Atlantic City office rang several times, then disconnected. No one could be reached at two listings for a Lonnie Sanders.
The U.S. Attorney's Office is prosecuting the case.
Nigalan appeared before U.S. District Court Judge Joel Schneider in Camden on Wednesday. He was freed on $500,000 collateral bond using his home, which had to be co-signed by his wife and son, according to U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Greg Reinert. He also had to pay $100,000 cash. Sanders was freed Tuesday on $10,000 bond.
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