Convicted Merrick doctor’s office shutters

Feds demand forfeiture, defense wants verdict thrown out in Belfiore opioid case


Dr. Michael Belfiore was convicted of improperly prescribing opioids to patients, and causing two overdose deaths on May 23. Last week, his remaining staff was copying files and wrapping up patient billing in his Merrick Road office, as his practice closed its doors for good, according to his attorney. His case, however, is not yet over.

Last week, federal prosecutors moved to seize thousands of dollars in forfeiture related to Belfiore’s practice, and the doctor’s defense attorney is asking a federal judge to throw out the guilty verdict.

Belfiore already faces a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison and a $10 million fine, for causing the deaths of John Ubaghs, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran from Baldwin, and Edward Martin, of East Rockaway.

Prosecutors are also seeking a forfeiture money judgment of $7,270 — the amount prosecutors say Belfiore was paid by the two overdose victims, and an undercover detective, for office visits at which they were prescribed oxycodone (see sidebar).

In court documents, prosecutors said that $7,270 was a “reasonable and conservative” estimate of the proceeds of Belfiore’s crimes. The forfeiture will be decided at Belfiore’s sentencing in October.

Belfiore’s attorney, Tom Liotti, meanwhile, is preparing to file a Rule 29 motion to have the verdict thrown out. In advance of the motion, which is due on June 13, Liotti submitted a letter alleging that prosecutors left out key information during the trial.

A May 29 New York Times article, “Origins of an Epidemic: Purdue Pharma Knew Its Opioids Were Widely Abused,” contained details from a confidential justice department memo that, according to Liotti, prosecutors should have acknowledged during the trial — the report contained “clearly exculpatory” information, he said.

Liotti also said, in his letter to Judge Joseph Bianco, that because prosecutors were able to question Belfiore about his knowledge of a 2007 guilty plea by Purdue Pharma executives, he should have been allowed to go further with his planned defense — that Belfiore was a victim of deceptive industry marketing and lax government regulation.

“All of these points we had raised pre-trial, attacking Purdue and the government and so forth,” Liotti said in a phone interview last week, while he was in the hospital recovering from minor surgery, “that should’ve been allowed as part of our defense. And now this report shows that the government held back important exculpatory evidence.”

“I honestly thought I had won that case,” Liotti added.

Laura Sherris, a Syosset attorney, said on Friday that she was one of many patients of Belfiore left stunned by the verdict, and unsure of where to go for their care.

Belfiore’s remaining staff is “completely inundated with patients who are crying, with people who don’t know what they’re going to do for their care,” Sherris said. “There are not a lot of doctors who have his knowledge, so we were all left without a doctor. They didn’t let him wind down the practice, or tell anybody how to continue their treatment.”

“We can’t even get our files,” she continued. “It’s devastating to a lot of people who are very ill.”

Claudia Marra, of Glen Cove, however, had little sympathy for Belfiore. Marra lost her husband to an opioid overdose in 2009, which she blames on Belfiore, who prescribed her husband oxycodone and fentanyl.

“His conviction is a sign that people are finally listening,” Marra said. “I was on edge — hoping every day that he would be convicted. Sadly, those that passed under his care have taken their stories to their grave.”

Oral arguments on Belfiore’s Rule 29 motion are scheduled for July 18.

Belfiore’s sentencing is set for Oct. 11. He is currently in federal custody.