A Merrick doctor was found guilty Wednesday of causing the overdose deaths of two Nassau residents by illegally prescribing them oxycodone, federal prosecutors and his attorney said.
Michael Belfiore, who practiced in Merrick but lived in Westbury, was taken into custody after a five-week trial in the Central Islip court of U.S. District Judge Joseph F. Bianco, officials said, and faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison and $10 million in fines.
Jurors found him guilty of two counts of illegal distribution of oxycodone, causing the deaths of two patients, and 26 counts of illegal distribution of oxycodone, prosecutors said, adding that Belfiore traded cash for writing prescriptions for the powerful opioids.
“Dr. Belfiore was acting not as a healer but as a drug dealer with a prescription pad,” said U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District Richard P. Donoghue. “The defendant lined his pockets with cash from patients in exchange for illegally prescribing oxycodone, a particularly dangerous and addictive drug, with lethal results.”
Belfiore’s attorney, Thomas Liotti of Garden City, said he has already asked the judge to set the verdict aside.
“It’s disappointing,” he said of the jury’s decision. “But we’re going to continue this fight and get justice. We’re definitely going to be appealing . . . and we have every reason to believe the verdict should be set aside because it’s contrary to the evidence in the case.”
Prosecutors said Belfiore wrote thousands of 30-milligram prescriptions for oxycodone, sometimes at a rate of up to 180 pills per month.
“From the time he was arrested to today’s conviction, it was abundantly clear that Dr. Belfiore’s actions were not those of a medical doctor, but those of a drug dealer,” said Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent-in-Charge James J. Hunt. “Lives were lost at the hands of Dr. Belfiore, whose practice enabled addiction and overdose — both of which contribute to the current opioid crisis our nation is facing.”
Testimony and evidence at trial convinced jurors that Belfiore gave an illegal prescription for 120 30-milligram oxycodone pills to Edward Martin, 43, of East Rockaway on Feb. 28, 2013. Martin overdosed and died in his bed on March 5 after, prosecutors said, he snorted the drug he got through Belfiore’s prescription.
And on April 12, 2013, Belfiore distributed 150 30-milligram doses of oxycodone to John Ubaghs, 33, of Baldwin, a Marine Corps veteran who served in the infantry during the war in Iraq, prosecutors said. Ubaghs was found unresponsive after overdosing the following day and was pronounced dead at a hospital.
Prosecutors said Belfiore also dispensed six prescriptions of oxycodone between March and August 2013 without a legitimate medical purpose to an undercover narcotics detective and created fake medical charts to justify those prescriptions.
The case was investigated by the DEA’s Long Island Tactical Diversion Squad, comprising agents and officers of the DEA, Nassau County police, Rockville Centre police, Suffolk County police, Port Washington police and the Internal Revenue Service.