Federal prosecutors are again pursuing a Long Island physician accused of overprescribing opioid painkillers. But this time, they’ve upped the ante.
In addition to the multiple counts alleging Dr. Michael Belfiore illegally distributed oxycodone contained in an earlier indictment, a superseding indictment issued June 29 also charges the Merrick physician with two counts of illegal distribution resulting in death.
If convicted, Belfiore faces a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison and a $10 million fine.
Eastern District Judge Joseph Bianco, sitting in Central Islip, ruled earlier this month that the original indictment’s failure to include necessary statutory elements—namely that Belfiore prescribed the medication “without a legitimate medical purpose”—warranted dismissal without prejudice of the charges.
Belfiore pleaded not guilty during his arraignment June 30. His lawyer, Thomas Liotti, said the reindictment amounts to a lack of “fair dealing” on the government’s part.
“We beat them the first time, and now they’re coming back and being vindictive and adding in theories they didn’t have before,” Liotti said.
According to the superseding indictment, Belfiore’s prescription of oxycodone to two of his Nassau County patients, Edward Martin and John Ubaghs, caused their deaths between late February and mid-April 2013.
“We hope the message is clear that law enforcement is zeroed in on opioid traffickers, whether a dealer, or a doctor,” U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent-in-Charge James Hunt said in a statement. “There is no excuse for medical professionals to engage in drug dealing, especially when that dealing ends lives.”
In his defense, Belfiore has argued that he cannot be guilty of prescribing oxycodone “without a legitimate medical purpose” when his prescribing practice aligned with the message sent by drug manufacturers—that their painkillers could be prescribed non-addictively.
Liotti said he plans to raise additional defenses this go-around, including the fact that Belfiore was denied the opportunity to testify before the grand jury that handed down the superseding indictment, as he did during the first grand jury proceeding.