An ex-psychiatrist from Suffolk County, accused of selling illegal oxycodone prescriptions in 2013 at the same time he made media appearances skewering celebrity doctors for turning their patients into addicts, avoided a prison term at his sentencing Monday in Manhattan federal court.
William Belfar, 55, of Huntington, who pleaded guilty in 2014 to selling prescriptions for $1,000 apiece out of his Manhattan office to an informant and two FBI undercover agents, was put on probation for five years and ordered to perform 400 hours of community service.
Belfar also pleaded guilty this year to health care claims fraud in New Jersey involving an illegal telemedicine business, but U.S. District Judge Andrew Carter said leniency was merited because of mental health issues, efforts to cooperate with prosecutors in the federal case, and the effect of prison on his family.
“I’m so sorry for what I did, and I regret my behavior,” Belfar told the judge in an unsteady voice. “…I recognize that I abused my position as a physician.”
At the time of the prescription sales — between 2011 and 2013 — Belfar allegedly told an informant, “[I]t is a very easy way to make money, but it’s an easy way for me to go to jail, too.”
The government also said Belfar appeared on two television shows in early 2013, at the same time he was selling prescriptions, complaining that doctors were behaving like drug dealers.
“This is a big business,” he said in one interview. “On the street… each [oxycodone] pill is $30. …Patients will pay a lot of money just to get these pills….The doctors prescribe it. Yes, some do it for money. Some do it because they just don’t know what they are doing….They just shouldn’t be doing it.”
Prior to his arrest, according to court filings, Belfar held positions at Jacobi Hospital in the Bronx, Gracie Square Hospital in Manhattan, and Rye Hospital in Westchester County.
Belfar faced 37 to 46 months under advisory federal sentencing guidelines, but prosecutors said he should get credit for efforts that turned out to be unsuccessful to assist the government in pursuing other cases, which were partly responsible for delaying his sentencing.
In addition to losing his medical license, Belfar told the judge, he had suffered severe financial reverses, and only after he was ordered by Carter last year to get mental health counseling did he discover that he had problems that needed treatment.
“Even though I’m a psychiatrist I could not properly analyze the serious illness in myself,” he said. “If it weren’t for you, I would never have been given the proper diagnosis…. It is hard for me to believe the things I did.”
As conditions of probation, Carter said Belfar would have to continue to receive outpatient mental health treatment and take prescribed medications. He ordered Belfar to notify the government and probation officials if he seeks reinstatement of his medical license.