Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed the patient files of a Glen Cove man who died of a fentanyl overdose in 2009, as they pursue a criminal case against the Merrick doctor who prescribed him painkillers.
The man in question, Mario Marra, as reported in a recent two-part Herald series about his addiction to painkillers, was a patient of Dr. Michael Belfiore, who faces more than two dozen charges alleging that he overprescribed opioid pain medications and implicating him in two overdose deaths. Belfiore, however, was not charged in connection with Marra’s death.
In June, initial charges against Belfiore were dismissed on a technicality, but prosecutors quickly resurrected the case with a new indictment, and according to Belfiore’s Garden City-based attorney, Thomas Liotti, they have tried to prejudice any future jurors who might hear Belfiore’s case using the media and cases that are past the statute of limitations.
Liotti said in court papers filed on Monday that prosecutors’ moves were “vindictive actions” taken because of Belfiore’s refusal to accept a plea deal.
The first indictment against Belfiore did not mention the overdose deaths of two men, from Baldwin and East Rockaway, but they were included in the new charges. According to Liotti, prosecutors “threatened Dr. Belfiore that if he did not take the plea, [they] would bring up the death cases.”
“This was an obvious threat used by the government to force Dr. Belfiore into taking a plea, even though he was claiming actual innocence,” Liotti said.
In subpoenaing Marra’s medical records, prosecutors are also seeking to “create adverse publicity,” Liotti said. According to the attorney, the prosecution “leaked word of” the subpoena to the Herald in July in order to injure Belfiore in the public eye.
There was no leak, however. Marra’s widow, Claudia, contacted the Herald in June after reading the paper’s reports on Belfiore’s ongoing legal battle, and agreed to tell the story of her husband’s addiction and death.
According to pharmacy records provided to the Herald by Marra’s wife, Belfiore prescribed him opioids, including fentanyl, on multiple occasions. Belfiore told the Herald last month that he had no recollection of the specific prescriptions he wrote for Marra, and that his records on Marra no longer exist. He also pushed back on Claudia’s assertion that he was aware of her late husband’s drug
Federal prosecutors did not speak to the Herald at any time about whether they would subpoena Marra’s medical records, or whether they planned to implicate Belfiore in his death. Liotti, however, did say on July 25 that the government had issued him the subpoena for Marra’s records.
“They’re basically trying to dredge up whatever they have to throw some gasoline on the fire and further prejudice” the case, he said.
In Monday’s motion to dismiss, Liotti also accused prosecutors of bypassing his previous motion to keep the Baldwin and East Rockaway deaths out of the case, which the judge did not rule on before the dismissal. By including the deaths in their new indictment, Liotti said, prosecutors were making an “even more egregious” and “improper tactical” move.
According to Liotti, Belfiore has suffered professionally, financially and personally because of ongoing media
Since the release of the second indictment, Belfiore has been asked by the Office of Professional Medical Conduct to surrender his license to practice medicine until the case is resolved, but Belfiore has refused.
He cannot, however, prescribe opioids, take part in Medicaid, or be reimbursed by some insurance companies, which, Liotti said, has cost him many patients.
“These charges have caused damage to his family where a car has been repossessed, his wife has had to work three jobs and he has been unable to provide for his family,” Liotti said. “These charges have caused considerable marital discord. His family is embarrassed by the pretrial publicity.”
In his filing, Liotti concluded that prosecutors are placing blame on Belfiore rather than pharmaceutical companies, where it belongs, and that their tactics amount to “an illicit strategy by the government to deprive this defendant of his constitutional rights.”
“These charges must be dismissed with prejudice, due to the underhanded tactics being used by the government,”
As of Tuesday, prosecutors had not responded to his motion. If convicted of the federal charges, Belfiore faces a minimum of 20 years in prison.
Prosecutors declined to comment for this story.