FLUSHING, Queens (PIX11) — PIX11 Investigates secured undercover surveillance footage from June 11, 2011, that shows a U.S. Army veteran, David Laffer, and his wife, Melinda Brady, at an illegal “pill mill” in Queens — eight days before Laffer executed four people in a Suffolk County pharmacy on Father’s Day.
In the footage, Laffer is seen in a black t-shirt and tan cargo shorts on a Saturday morning with a large group of other people waiting for the doors to open at the basement clinic that was operated by Dr. Stan Xuhui Li in Flushing.
Laffer’s red-haired wife, Melinda, is seen in a plaid jacket pacing around and smoking a cigarette while Laffer went into the clinic to buy a painkiller prescription. Dr. Li went to prison last December for 10 2/3 to 20 years for manslaughter and selling prescriptions. Li was convicted of manslaughter because at least two of his patients died from fatal overdoses.
“Dr. Li got calls from doctors in emergency rooms, saying, ‘Do you know your patient overdosed?’” recalled Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan.
After the patients survived initial overdoses, some would go back to Li for more prescriptions at the same strength.
“It was extraordinarily reckless conduct,” Brennan told PIX11 Investigates.
But it was conduct apparently motivated by greed.
A New Jersey-based anesthesiologist, Li used to deposit $14,000 in bank accounts every week — the cash take from his “side” business in Flushing.
He would sell prescriptions for the highly-addictive Oxycodone pills for $200 or $300 a pop.
When law enforcement raided Dr. Li’s offices in 2011, officers found the prescriptions already written out, with a blank space on top waiting for a customer’s name.
David Laffer robbed Haven Drugs in Medford, Long Island, of 11,000 hydrocodone pills — powerful opioids — on June 19, 2011, while his wife waited in a getaway car outside.
Laffer shot pharmacist Raymond Ferguson Jr. along with 17-year-old Jennifer Mejia, a high school student, and two customers who walked in on the robbery: Jaime Taccetta, 33, and Bryon Sheffield, 71.
Both Laffer and his wife were addicted to opioids. Laffer pleaded guilty in late 2011 and received life in prison. Brady was sentenced to 25 years for her part in the robbery.
Dr. Li was sentenced to his lengthy prison term of up to 20 years in December 2014.
Brennan noted that his one-day-a-week business in Flushing was “easy money — and it was all cash. Not reported.”
“He would arrive very early on Saturday morning,” Brennan told PIX11 Investigates, “and by the time he arrived, the patients would be lined up all the way around the clinic” on 41st Road in Flushing.
“They got numbers, like deli numbers,” Brennan said of the clients. “That’s how they were called. They were called by number, not by name.”
The surveillance footage featured on PIX11 News and PIX11.com was never seen publicly, until reporter Mary Murphy got access to it.
PIX11 aired the surveillance Thursday just as another doctor — Hector Castro — was convicted in Manhattan Supreme Court on 39 counts of criminal sale of prescriptions. Castro ran a clinic in the Gramercy Park section of Manhattan. He was convicted of selling oxycodone prescriptions for $125 each.
Prosecutors said Castro and his office manager — in two separate schemes — put a half million oxycodone pills on the streets. Brennan’s office said drug rings in New Jersey and Pennsylvania were getting most of the pills, with most of the prescriptions filled in New Jersey pharmacies. Prosecutors said Castro was trying to circumvent New York’s strict laws for monitoring prescription pain killers.
Castro faces a maximum sentence of 5 1/2 years in prison on each count of criminal sale of a prescription.