The doctor who supplied pain pills to convicted Medford pharmacy gunman David Laffer was charged Thursday with manslaughter in connection with two overdose deaths, one involving a 37-year-old Long Island man.
The manslaughter charges, each of which carries a potential prison term of between 5 and 15 years, came as part of a superseding, 219-count indictment announced by the city's Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor. The charges stem from Li's operation of a pain clinic in Flushing.
Li, who lives in Hamilton, N.J., already faced charges of reckless endangerment and criminal sale of a prescription for a controlled substance in the case of a Queens man, Michael Cornetta, who died of an overdose in 2010. In that case, Li pleaded not guilty in November of last year.
Li pleaded not guilty Thursday in Manhattan Supreme Court to the expanded slate of charges. His Manhattan attorney, Raymond Belair, said the new charges were an "egregious over-indictment. Dr. Li is a skilled and compassionate pain management specialist. . . . Dr. Li looks forward to the opportunity to defend himself and to his ultimate acquittal on all charges."
Li was held in custody Thursday on bond of $750,000, $250,000 cash.
Li was a heavy prescriber of pain drugs to Laffer, who on June 19 of last year walked into Haven Drugs in Medford and executed four people before fleeing with thousands of pills. Laffer is serving life in prison.
Prosecutors say that Li, an anesthesiologist, saw as many as 100 patients a day on weekends at his Flushing clinic between January 2009 and his arrest in November of last year. Li ignored obvious signs of drug abuse, pleas from family members to stop handing out prescriptions, and a mounting number of overdose fatalities among his patients, prosecutors said.
He charged patients fees based on the number of prescriptions they requested and pills they received while dispensing toxic levels and combinations of drugs, prosecutors said. They said Li took in $450,000 in cash from his clinic operations and another $130,000 from insurers. The clinic was open Saturdays and the occasional Sunday.
"Dr. Li flouted the fundamental principle of medicine: First do no harm," New York City's Special Narcotics prosecutor Bridget Brennan said in a statement. "He jeopardized lives by repeatedly prescribing dangerous controlled substances and narcotic drugs for cash, not medical need."
One of the manslaughter charges involves the death of Joseph Haeg, 37, who was found in his East Moriches bedroom in December 2009. In the month before his death, prosecutors say Li saw Haeg twice, providing him with prescriptions for more than 500 pills, some of them narcotic painkillers.
Haeg's last visit to Li was three days before his body was discovered, prosecutors said. Li gave him prescriptions for three controlled substances, including oxycodone, an opioid, they said. It was later determined that Haeg died from acute oxycodone intoxication.
Attempts to reach Haeg's family were not successful.
The other manslaughter charge involves Nicholas Rappold of Queens, who was found dead in his parked car at age 21 in September 2010. Rappold saw Li four days before his body was found and got prescriptions for oxycodone and Xanax, an anti-anxiety drug.
On the console of Rappold's car was a bottle of Xanax he'd been prescribed by Li with 35 of 90 pills remaining, according to prosecutors.
Rappold died from combined oxycodone and Xanax intoxication, prosecutors said.
In January, the state health department barred Li from practicing in New York pending resolution of disciplinary proceedings.
Besides the manslaughter charges, Li was also slapped with three new counts of reckless endangerment involving three patients, including a Queens man, Kevin Kingsley, who died in 2010 of an overdose two months after getting his last prescription from Li.
Other counts involved Medicare and insurance fraud and multiple counts of filing a false instrument.
Prosecutors charge that in August of last year, Li submitted altered documents after getting a request for patient records from state regulators.