A Baldwin doctor was charged Friday with causing the overdose deaths of two patients by overprescribing the painkiller oxycodone during a time period in which he doled out prescriptions for a staggering 782,032 pills, federal authorities said.
Prosecutors said Dr. William Conway, 69, prescribed 450 oxycodone pills to Giovanni Manzella, 34, of Long Beach, less than 48 hours before his overdose death on April 23, 2011. Another patient, Christopher Basmas, 29, of Hicksville, overdosed on Oct. 27, 2011, two days after Conway wrote him a prescription for 180 oxycodone pills, prosecutors said.
The doctor wrote a total of 5,554 oxycodone prescriptions between January 2009 and November 2011 -- some of them for people he had never treated or even met, prosecutors said. He also tried to alter patient files after Basmas died, and recklessly prescribed pain pills to people he knew were addicts, prosecutors said.
"The so-called doctor's fate is in the hands of the justice system, and my little brother is in the hands of God," Basmas' sister, Cindy Russo, 36, said in an email to Newsday. "For the rest of my life I will forever carry a profound, unrelenting sadness in my heart and soul for having suddenly lost my unsurpassed, most best friend in the whole world, my little brother."
Efforts to reach Manzella's family were unsuccessful.
Friday's indictment was the latest effort by authorities to stem the epidemic of prescription drug abuse on Long Island. The charges come in the wake of a massive June 6 crackdown on pill-pushing mills that netted 98 suspects, including Conway, as well as the June 2011 Medford pharmacy shooting in which prescription pill-addicted David Laffer fatally shot four people. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Conway, who has been held without bail since his June arrest on charges of illegally distributing oxycodone, had the additional charge of distribution of a controlled substance causing death leveled against him Friday in a superseding indictment unsealed in U.S. District Court in Central Islip. He is scheduled to be arraigned on the new charge Friday.
"Sworn to do no harm, Conway allegedly turned his back on his patients' real needs and turned instead to the pursuit of easy money," U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch said in a statement. "The charges unsealed today reflect the tragic consequences of prescription drug trafficking and abuse."
Conway's assistant of 20 years, Robert Hachemeister, 67, of Baldwin, also was charged Friday with conspiracy and distribution of oxycodone as part of the new indictment.
Hachemeister, who was considered a likely witness for Conway's defense before his arrest, pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and distribution of oxycodone at his arraignment in federal court in Central Islip. He was released on $150,000 bail.
Conway's lawyer, Richard Langone, of Garden City, called the case against both men a "witch hunt."
"The government has upped the ante against my client, who is innocent, simply because he wants to exercise his right to trial," Langone said. "And I think the government has indicted [Hachemeister] this late in the game for the specific purpose of preventing him from being a witness for Dr. Conway."
Hachemeister faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted on all counts.
At Hachemeister's arraignment, Assistant U.S. District Attorney Sean Flynn said he was known as "Dr. Bob" to patients he wrote prescriptions for -- despite having no medical training or license.
Flynn said the prescriptions Hachemeister wrote were from prescription pads whose pages were pre-signed by Conway. Flynn said Hachemeister kept giving them out "even after family members came and begged him to stop," referring to relatives of patients who were drug addicts.
"He continued writing prescriptions for these pills even after two patients died," Flynn said.
Hachemeister's lawyer, Anthony La Pinta, of Hauppauge, said his client -- a married, churchgoing father of two -- is innocent.
"Mr. Hachemeister is a very well-respected member of our community and a very devoted family man," La Pinta said outside court.
With Robert E. Kessler, John Valenti, Patricia Kitchen and Mackenzie Issler