Tom Liotti fired back last week after being accused of providing ineffective counsel to his former client, Merrick physician Dr. Michael Belfiore.
Belfiore is in federal custody pending sentencing, after he was convicted in May on 28 charges related to his prescribing of opioids — including causing the deaths of two patients.
Liotti represented Belfiore throughout the case, striving to paint Belfiore as one of thousands of physician-victims of Purdue Pharma and other opioid manufacturers’ deceptive marketing campaigns.
However, in a recent motion to have the conviction overturned, Belfiore’s new attorney, Bruce Barket, alleged that Liotti had advised Belfiore against taking a plea, when it would clearly have been in his best interest to do otherwise, and of billing Belfiore for hours spent on the phone consulting with a psychic during the trial.
Liotti responded last week, in a 17-page sworn affidavit, defending his work on behalf of Belfiore and denying that he urged his client to proceed with trial rather than take a plea.
“At the outset, I want to restate that I totally believe in the innocence of Dr. Belfiore: That, in my opinion, the government did not prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and that he was wrongfully convicted,” Liotti wrote. “Nothing that I write or say in regards to this case will ever change these opinions, but I do not support in any way Dr. Belfiore’s motion for a new trial based upon my alleged ineffectiveness as an attorney.”
Liotti submitted, along with his affidavit, correspondence between him and Belfiore pretrial in which he advised him the dangers of not accepting prosecutors’ plea deal.
Prosecutors issued a new superseding indictment against Belfiore after he refused to plead guilty, and he now faces a minimum of 20 years in prison, with the possibility of life.
Liotti also alleged that it was Belfiore’s idea to visit the psychic, and he complied, “parroting” Belfiore’s questions to the Illinois-based “fortune teller.”
“It is important to note that no part of the strategies or trial techniques which I deployed in this case were the byproduct, or in anyway influenced by the psychic’s comments,” Liotti wrote. “In fact, my recollection is that I was made aware of his existence very late in the process, and well after the themes for our defense and strategies were mapped out.”
Liotti had never before, and has not since, consulted with a psychic, he said.
Liotti also defended his strategy of going after lax government regulators and “Big Pharma,” calling Barket and his team “unseasoned” and “naïve” for calling the strategy ineffective and confused. He maintained that he had the facts on his side throughout Belfiore’s trial.
“With all due respect to the government’s experts, I believe that ours were far superior,” Liotti wrote, later adding, “The government’s cross-examination of all three experts was flaccid and unassailing.”
Liotti concluded by taking issue with the general tone of Barket’s motion.
“Post-trial motions of this genre are not supposed to be used as an opportunity to take potshots at a dedicated, well-meaning defense lawyer, but are meant to deal substantively with errors allegedly made,” he wrote. “That has not been done in this case. Instead, the defendant’s rights have been totally neglected by his new lawyers in selling him a bill of goods, which, quite literally, makes no sense.”
“I haven’t said that [Belfiore] is guilty — I totally support him,” Liotti added in a phone interview Tuesday. “I just don’t think [Barket] gets there on an ineffective assistance claim.”
Belfiore was convicted of causing the overdose deaths of John Ubaghs, of Baldwin, and of Edward Martin, of East Rockaway, both in 2013.
A third patient of Belfiore, from Glen Cove, also died of a fentanyl overdose in 2009, days after Belfiore prescribed him the potent, often lethal opioid. The man’s widow, Claudia Marra, told the Herald last year that her husband was addicted to opioids, and Belfiore knew it. She did not press charges against Belfiore, but told her story in a series of Herald reports in summer 2017; her husband’s medical records were also subpoenaed by prosecutors pre-trial.
A fourth patient of Belfiore’s also died of an overdose in 2011. His family filed a wrongful death suit against Belfiore, and won a financial settlement in 2017.
As of Tuesday, Belfiore’s sentencing had been postponed to February.