A doctor suspected of prescribing thousands of painkillers to a man who murdered four people in a Long Island pharmacy pleaded not guilty on Monday in the sale of prescriptions to a Queens man who died of an overdose.
The doctor, Stan XuHui Li, 57, worked as an anesthesiologist in New Jersey during the week and ran a medical clinic in Flushing, Queens, on weekends. He was arrested on Saturday and charged with 15 counts of criminal sale of a prescription for a controlled substance and 5 counts of reckless endangerment.
Dr. Li, of Hamilton, N.J., pleaded not guilty to all the charges in State Supreme Court in Manhattan. If convicted, he could face more than 50 years in prison.
New York City’s Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor said Dr. Li’s clinic was a front for an illegal drug-dealing operation in which patients would line up early Saturday morning and pay cash for powerful opiate painkiller prescriptions that they then had filled. Some would then resell their pills and patches outside the clinic to support their addictions, officials said.
Between May 2009 and August 2010, officials said, Dr. Li wrote at least 15 prescriptions for potent opiates like oxycodone and fentanyl for the Queens man, Michael Cornetta, even after an emergency room doctor at a New York City hospital called Dr. Li to inform him that Mr. Cornetta was being treated for substance abuse. Mr. Cornetta overdosed at least twice during that period and died of an overdose in November 2010 at age 40, officials said.
The office said it was also investigating nine deadly overdoses of other patients who it said had been prescribed drugs by Dr. Li.
Dr. Li’s lawyer, Aaron Wallenstein, said by telephone that Dr. Li had done nothing “criminally wrong.”
“Anyone who he ascertained was a drug addict or going to multiple pharmacies or doctors, he would discharge, including Mr. Cornetta and Mr. Laffer,” Mr. Wallenstein said, referring to David Laffer, who stole 11,000 hydrocodone pills, the main ingredient in Vicodin, from a Medford, N.Y., pharmacy on June 19 after fatally shooting four people inside.
Mr. Li’s bail was set at $100,000 in cash. His arrest, following a yearlong investigation, comes amid growing national scrutiny of the role of some doctors in abetting addiction by overprescribing opiate drugs to patients, including some who have gone on to commit serious crimes.
The authorities said they were investigating the links between Dr. Li and Mr. Laffer. A person with direct knowledge of the inquiry, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said investigators thought Dr. Li had written 24 prescriptions for Mr. Laffer, including for 2,520 hydrocodone pills, between October 2009 and May 2011. The accusations were first reported last week by Newsday.
Investigators said Mr. Laffer’s wife, Melinda Brady, who pleaded guilty to helping him plan the robbery, had also been a patient of Dr. Li’s.
Ms. Brady and Mr. Laffer were arrested after the office of the special prosecutor found their prescription records among the investigative files for Dr. Li and forwarded the information to Suffolk County authorities.
Bridget G. Brennan, the special narcotics prosecutor, said Dr. Li was “accused of intentionally writing prescriptions for addictive narcotics in return for cash and for no legitimate medical reason.” That, she said, is “just another form of drug dealing.”
Officials said they first became suspicious of Dr. Li after patients’ families complained that he was prescribing drugs that were not medically necessary and were making their loved ones sick.
Law enforcement officials said that at his clinic, where Dr. Li saw up to 120 patients a day, patients were given numbers and then called as if in a deli line. Prosecutors said Dr. Li, who attended medical school in China and became a naturalized American citizen in 1999, had pocketed more than $450,000 in cash from prescription sales since 2009.