Dr. Stan Li found guilty of manslaughter in painkiller overdose deaths of 2 NY men

Dr. Stan Xuhui Li walks from the State Dr. Stan Xuhui Li walks from the State Supreme Court building in Lower Manhattan Friday, June 20, 2014. Far right is Li's attorney Raymond Belair. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Queens pain clinic operator Dr. Stan Li was found guilty of manslaughter and reckless endangerment in Manhattan state court Friday for recklessly prescribing oxycodone and other medications to patients who overdosed and, in seven cases, died.

Special narcotics prosecutor Bridget Brennan's office said Li, best known as Medford pharmacy gunman David Laffer's most prolific pain pill prescriber, was the first doctor ever convicted of manslaughter in New York City for prescribing practices and was thought to be the first in the state. Laffer, who murdered four people in a pharmacy on Father's Day 2011, was prescribed more than 2,500 pills.

The 31/2-month trial featured testimony from more than 70 witnesses about 20 of Li's patients caught up in cycles of pain, addiction, and physical and mental decay who, prosecutors said, got repeated refills despite obvious signs of abuse, while Li raked in more than $450,000 from his one-day-a-week pain clinic.

"We believed that the public needed protection from criminally reckless conduct that purported to be medical treatment but resulted in loss of life, addiction, and harm to patients," Brennan said after the verdict.

Li, 60, a New Jersey anesthesiologist whose link to Laffer made him a poster boy for problems of opioid abuse and lax prescribing practices, was convicted of insurance fraud, falsifying records and 180 counts of criminal sale of prescriptions as well as manslaughter and endangerment.

He was impassive as the guilty verdicts were announced by the jury foreman one by one, leaning back in his chair and looking down at the floor as they piled up. Afterward, Justice Michael Sonberg revoked his bail, and he was ushered out with his hands cuffed behind him.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Li's defense lawyer departed the courthouse without commenting, as did jurors.

During a week on the witness stand, Li contended that he did nothing but believe patients who said they were in pain and fulfill his medical obligation to try to provide relief. He said no patient would have died or overdosed if they followed his prescriptions.

Jurors, however, returned manslaughter convictions in the deaths of Joseph Haeg, 37, of East Moriches, and Nicholas Rappold, 21, of Queens, who each died within days of receiving a pain prescription from Li. He faces a maximum of 5 to 15 years in prison on each manslaughter charge.

He was found guilty of first-degree reckless endangerment of three patients for exhibiting a "depraved indifference" to a serious risk of death, and second-degree endangerment of three other patients for recklessly creating risk of serious injury. He was acquitted on one second-degree count.

Li's conviction on 180 counts of illegally selling prescriptions included all seven relating to Laffer. He was acquitted on 10 illegal-sale counts. He was convicted on 20 counts of fraud and altering records, but acquitted on two records charges.

Substance abuse experts praised the verdicts. "I hope this sends a message to other physicians," said Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds of the Family and Children's Association in Mineola. ". . . Long Island is wrestling with a profound prescription drug crisis, which was fueled in large part by a small number of overprescribing doctors."

The convictions on 198 of 211 charges made Li the second doctor involved in prescribing pain pills to Laffer who has been successfully prosecuted. In May, Eric Jacobson of Huntington pleaded guilty in Central Islip federal court to illegally prescribing oxycodone to 19 patients.

Li could face dozens of years in prison if maximum sentences are imposed on each count. His sentencing was set for Oct. 20.

You also may be interested in: