Sources: Overdose death, arrested doctors linked

Maria Basmas and Cindy Russo blame Dr. William Conway for the overdose death of Christopher Basmas, Basmas' son and Russo's brother. Videojournalist: Jim Staubitser (June 8, 2012)

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A Hicksville man, who federal prosecutors say died of an overdose of oxycodone, received painkiller prescriptions from more than a dozen physicians, including three who have been charged in drug trafficking probes, according to sources familiar with state records.

Christopher Basmas, 29, died in October, two days after getting his seventh refill of an oxycodone prescription written by Dr. William Conway of Baldwin, according to prosecutors.

Conway is responsible for Basmas' death and the April death of Giovanni Manzella, 34, of Long Beach, according to prosecutors. The doctor has been charged with illegally distributing oxycodone but has not been charged in either man's death.

In court papers filed last week the two victims were initially identified as John Doe 1 and John Doe 2, but sources, a defense attorney and family members identified them as Manzella and Basmas.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Flynn said "it would appear that [the] systematic and callous dispensing of oxycodone by Conway has led to the death of two young Long Islanders in the past fourteen months."

Among the dozen other doctors who prescribed painkillers to Basmas since 2009 are Eric Jacobson, of Great Neck, and Stan Li, of Flushing, according to sources familiar with the records of the New York State Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, which tracks drug prescriptions.

Jacobson and Li were among the heaviest suppliers of painkillers to Medford pharmacy shooter David Laffer and his wife, Melinda Brady, according to state records.

Conway and Jacobson were arrested Wednesday and charged with trafficking in painkillers as part of a joint crackdown by federal and county law enforcement that led to a total of 98 arrests.

Monday, a federal magistrate ordered Conway detained unless he can come up with a substantial bail package.

Jacobson was ordered held without bail Wednesday.

Li was arrested in November on charges of criminal sale of a controlled substance and reckless endangerment in connection with the death of a patient from Queens in an overdose last year. He has pleaded not guilty.

Conway's attorney, Richard Langone, of Garden City, said his client had always acted professionally. "These youths did not die from the prescribed dosage; they died from ingesting far more than was prescribed," Langone said.

Jacobson's attorney, John Martin, of Great Neck, said the government has seized all his client's files and he could not check on any relationship between Jacobson and Basmas.

In a statement, Li's attorney, Raymond Belair, of Manhattan, said, "Dr. Li was appropriately treating the patient for chronic low back pain. . . . When [Li] was first advised by state authorities that the patient had been seeing more than one physician, he immediately discharged the patient in October 2009."

Maria Basmas thinks Conway is to blame for her son's death. "He won't be able to hurt anyone, anymore," Basmas said.

Basmas said her son was in fine health, working in his father's construction business until he was injured in a motorcycle accident.

Then her son began to seek relief from the pain in a downward spiral of increasing dependence on painkillers, to the point where he could barely be awakened from sleep and pleaded with her to fill prescriptions when he was too sick to do so, Basmas said.

Li prescribed painkillers for Christopher Basmas through most of 2009, sources said, and Jacobson issued him prescriptions three times at the beginning of 2011.

The other doctors also at times prescribed Basmas pain medications at the same time he was getting prescriptions from Li and Jacobson, according to the sources.

These physicians helped to "destroy my son, little by little," Maria Basmas said.

Prosecutors say that Conway is responsible for the deaths of Basmas and Manzella because neither had gotten oxycodone from any other doctors for months before they died from overdoses, according to court papers.

Manzella was found dead a day after receiving the last of five prescriptions from Conway, according to Flynn.

A lawyer hired by the Manzella family declined to comment on the case. Robert Nardoza, a spokesman for the Eastern District, also declined to comment.

Maria Basmas said the physicians who prescribed painkillers for her son as his dependence worsened had to have known his condition."He dressed sloppily and wouldn't look you in the eye when he talked," she said.

At one point, she said, her son repeatedly called her and begged her to get him some medication, Basmas said. "He kept calling me," so Basmas said she went to the pharmacy and was told the prescription cost $240.

She said that she reluctantly paid, but didn't want to give it to her son "who grabbed it out of my hand anyway and took it," she said.

The family, which is from Greece, even took Basmas to the Mediterranean country for two months last summer in an attempt to get him to kick the need for painkillers, but he relapsed as soon as he returned to Hicksville and again began getting prescriptions for painkillers from Conway, she said.

"He told me you just went into his office, paid cash and got a prescription," Basmas said.

After her son's death, Basmas said she had traveled to Albany to meet and lobby legislators to push for a bill, passed Monday, to curb doctor shopping.

"My son did not die in vain," she said. "His life and death have meaning."

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