NEW YORK (AP) — A doctor accused of peddling painkiller prescriptions to addicts — including some who died of overdoses and one who later killed four people in a pharmacy holdup — was convicted Friday in what was believed to be the first manslaughter case against a New York doctor in an overdose death.
Dr. Stan Li also was convicted of recklessly endangering six other patients by giving them prescriptions despite signs of drug abuse. One suicidal patient overdosed five times. Relatives of another patient told Li she was trading the medications for heroin and begged him to stop, prosecutors said.
Li, an anesthesiologist and pain management specialist, maintained he merely tried to help suffering people who misused medications and misled him. A jury acquitted him of one reckless-endangerment charge and some of the other 211 counts against him, which included selling prescriptions, falsifying business records and other offenses.
The 60-year-old physician sat motionless as the verdicts on the top charges were read. By the 40th count, he leaned back somberly in his chair and stopped looking at the jury. His bail revoked, he was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs to await an Oct. 20 sentencing. The manslaughter charge alone carries the potential for up to 5 to 15 years in prison.
"We believed that the public needed protection from criminally reckless conduct that purported to be medical treatment but resulted in loss of life, addiction and harm to patients," city Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan said in a statement Friday.
Li's lawyer, Raymond Belair, left court without speaking to reporters and didn't immediately respond to email and telephone messages after the verdict.
Manslaughter charges against doctors for overprescribing drugs are uncommon, but some have grabbed headlines. Perhaps most notoriously, former cardiologist Conrad Murray was accused of giving pop superstar Michael Jackson a lethal dose of the anesthetic propofol as a sleep aid in 2009 and was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.
Prosecutors said Li, who operated a Queens pain management clinic, prescribed lethal amounts of highly addictive medications, including oxycodone and Xanax, to two men who fatally overdosed.
One got prescriptions for nearly 800 tablets within a month and a half, dying of an oxycodone overdose three days after last seeing Li, prosecutors said. The other got prescriptions from Li for 500 pills within five weeks and was found dead in his car, surrounded by containers of pills Li had prescribed.
Li also was convicted of selling prescriptions to another patient whose addiction proved to have deadly consequences: David Laffer shot and killed two employees and two customers while holding up a Long Island pharmacy for painkillers in June 2011. Laffer pleaded guilty to murder and is serving a life sentence.
Prosecutors said Li, of Hamilton, New Jersey, saw as many as 90 patients a day in a Queens weekend storefront clinic that charged on a per-prescription scale.
"He would take their money, write the prescription and send them out to suffer some more," prosecutor Peter Kougasian said in a closing argument.
But Li's lawyer told jurors in his summation that Li's patients had deceived him.
"These were tough patients," Belair said. "They were very good liars."