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Judge: Overdose deaths can boost Baldwin doctor's sentence in oxycodone prescription case

Federal agents raided the office of Dr. William

Federal agents raided the office of Dr. William Conway in Baldwin and carried out about a half-dozen boxes of records in February. Conway was arrested in June 2012 along with 97 other people in a massive federal and local investigation of illegal prescription painkillers. He was charged with illegally distributing 780,000 oxycodone pills. (Feb. 29, 2012) Credit: Jim Staubitser

A federal judge has ruled that a convicted Baldwin doctor's illegal prescription of oxycodone resulted in the death of one of his patients, increasing the chances he could face up to 20 years in prison.

The doctor, William Conway, pleaded guilty in July 2013 to a charge of illegal distribution of oxycodone, but did not admit to causing the deaths of any patients. At that point, Conway faced seven to eight years in prison under the suggested federal sentencing guidelines.

A presentence report later prepared by federal probation officers, however, recommended that U.S. District Judge Leonard Wexler add on significantly more prison time because they said Conway's illegal prescribing of oxycodone caused the deaths in 2011 of two his patients. A judge is permitted to take into account such related conduct in sentencing, even if a defendant hasn't admitted to it.

The probation report recommended that Conway's conduct called for a sentence that could be more than 20 years -- between 210 and 262 months in prison. Federal prosecutors agreed with the presentencing recommendation.

But under federal statutes that override the guidelines, the maximum sentence for the crime to which Conway pleaded is capped at 20 years or 240 months, regardless of any other factors involved. A hearing was held in May to determine whether Conway was responsible for the deaths of Giovanni Manzella, 34, of Long Beach, and Christopher Basmas, 29, of Hicksville.

Wexler ruled in an opinion dated Aug. 7, but circulated this week, that "Dr. Conway prescribed oxycodone to Manzella for no legitimate medical purpose and that Manzella died as result of using the oxycodone Dr. Conway prescribed."

A sentencing date has not been set. At his trial, Conway was accused of distributing huge quantities of oxycodone to Manzella, Basmas and other patients, some of whom he had never met or treated. Conway's attorney, Richard Langone of Garden City, argued in court papers that both Manzella and Basmas got oxycodone from a number of doctors, and their deaths couldn't be directly attributed to his client. Langone alleged Manzella and Basmas were "long-term opioid abusers and doctor shoppers."

Langone said Manzella had 43 other doctors and Basmas 28. Both had the ability to manipulate Conway and other doctors into prescribing oxycodone, he alleged in the court papers.

His findings in the Manzella case were enough to back recommendation of a stiffer sentence, Wexler said, adding he did not have to make a determination as to the cause of Basmas' death.

Langone said his client plans to appeal the ruling. Eastern District federal prosecutor Michael Canty declined to comment.

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