CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — A North Wildwood physician charged with prescribing Percocet to an undercover police officer and submitting fraudulent bills to an insurance company said Monday he believed the woman was a legitimate patient with a real problem.
"There was no question in my mind that she was a real patient. In no way did I think she was a police officer trying to put me in jail," Dr. John Costino said.
Wearing the same stethoscope he used to examine that officer, Costino testified about his practice and procedures he used April 12, 2007, the first day Little Egg Harbor Township police officer Tonya Anderson walked into Costino's office posing as an exotic dancer. She would visit his office a total of seven times, twice with a second officer.
Costino said he spoke to Anderson, who pretended to be a dancer from Atlantic City, about the physically demanding job she had and observed her condition from her behavior.
"The occupation is obviously very significant," Costino said. Costino told the jury that he had worked in Atlantic City and was familiar with the aches and pains experienced by waitresses, waiters, dancers and others that work in the resort.
"I treated a lot of dancers," he said.
Anderson told Costino she worked long nights, long hours and was on her feet all day, adding she used Percocet, a painkiller, to unwind and to help her sleep.
Costino said the only reasons someone can't sleep are "either they're anxious or depressed or they've got pain." Anderson, he said, was not anxious or depressed.
"My impression … she's taking Percocet after she dances for her pain and it works for her," Costino said. "I thought she had a very good reason for taking Percocet after her dancing."
He said that Anderson told him that the pills worked, which he took to mean as the pills were alleviating her pain. During their visits, Costino also warned her of the dangers of addiction and building a tolerance to the drug as well as advising her not to smoke.
At times, Costino offered detailed explanations about medical terminology that veered off topic, which led to objections by Assistant Prosecutor Dara Paley.
"There's a tendency here for the witness to turn, face the jury and treat them like medical students," Superior Court Judge Batten said.
Defense attorney John Tumelty led Costino through the transcripts of each of the undercover visits and had him tell jurors about the conversations as well as the bills he submitted.
Costino is charged with nine counts of drug distribution, a third-degree crime, and seven counts of health care claims fraud, a second-degree crime.
"Did you put anything down on this chart that is false," Tumelty asked a medical chart from Anderson's visits.
"No," Costino replied.
Tumelty also asked if the doctor, who has since had his license revoked, ever submitted false information about the insurance claims.
"Never," Costino replied.
His testimony came after 26 character witnesses — business owners, elected officials, friends — testified to Costino's truthfulness and honesty.
They included retired politicians such as former North Wildwood Mayor Aldo Palombo and former Cape May County Sheriff and Superior Court Judge John Callinan, current officials such as Wildwood City Solicitor Marcus Karavan and fellow physicians such as Dr. Robert Speer, who attended medical school with Costino in Philadelphia.
Former state Sen. James Cafiero was also a character witness.
Cafiero called Costino "my friend, my neighbor, my family doctor for many years."
Cafiero said he knew the doctor had a reputation for being truthful and honest.
"We share a common barber. If you hear any tales, you hear them in the barber's chair. I heard nothing," Cafiero said.
The trial will resume Wednesday. The case will not be heard on Election Day, Batten said.
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