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NEW YORK – A New York City doctor pleaded guilty to prescribing opioids to his patients in exchange for sexual favors, federal prosecutors announced Wednesday.

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Joseph Santiamo, 65, of Staten Island, pleaded guilty during a video conference hearing to conspiracy to distribute oxycodone, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of New Jersey.

Santiamo owned and operated an internal medicine and geriatric care practice in Staten Island from Jan. 1, 2012, through May 3, 2018, reported. According to the criminal complaint, Santiamo prescribed large amounts of oxycodone without a legitimate medical reason for the treatments.

Santiamo was arrested in 2019 as part of a wide-ranging sweep in the Northeast, stemming from the alleged distribution of more than 3.25 million opioid pills, the Staten Island Advance reported.

“This defendant knowingly prescribed for his patients dangerous quantities of oxycodone, and even more egregiously, solicited sexual favors from certain patients who were struggling with substance abuse in exchange for writing them additional opioid prescriptions,” U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito said in a release. “Many of these patients were dealing with pain and addiction, and instead of getting help from their doctor, they were drawn deeper into the cycle of drug abuse. His admission of guilt today ensures that he will be appropriately punished for this behavior.”

Santiamo’s younger patients were all under the age of 40 when the doctor gave them prescriptions, according to the news release. Santiamo wrote the prescriptions despite evidence that certain patients were abusing opioids, authorities said.

Santiamo faces a maximum 20-year prison term and a $1 million fine when he is sentenced April 12, 2021, reported. The case was investigated by agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New Jersey division, the website reported.

“This defendant not only violated his oath to help people, he took advantage of them when they were most vulnerable for his own selfish needs,” DEA Special Agent in Charge Susan A. Gibson said in the news release. “The only difference between him and a person who deals drugs on the street is the white lab coat he wears.”