A judge Tuesday warned Anthony S. Pignataro, a former West Seneca physician, that he faces a state prison term if he continues to seek jobs in any medically related businesses or moves again without permission from Erie County probation officers.
With a criminal investigation continuing into the arsenic poisoning of Pignataro's still-hospitalized estranged wife and possibly his two children, State Supreme Court Justice Ronald H. Tills said that he doesn't take court-imposed probation lightly.
Tills told Pignataro, who lost his medical license after a patient died in his office, that he was "alarmed" to learn Pignataro moved three times recently without permission from probation officials.
Pignataro was sentenced by Tills last year to a six-month jail term, a $5,000 fine, 250 hours of community service and five years probation for his guilty plea to criminally negligent homicide in the death of a woman patient after breast-augmentation surgery. Pignataro, also stripped of his medical license, got a good-behavior release from the Erie County Correctional Facility in Alden last December after spending about four months behind bars.
Pignataro would face a possible state prison term of up to four years if he is charged and then convicted of violating terms of his probation. Tills told the former doctor Tuesday that he believes he "has not performed probation as I directed it" with his search for a medically related job and his frequent moves.
Although Pignataro's attorney, Joel L. Daniels, questioned Tills' right to conduct a court session for a defendant who is not charged with criminal violations of probation, the judge stressed he has the right "to call my probationers in at any time."
Tills conceded Pignataro, 41, successfully completed 250 hours of community service, but rebuked him for moving without Probation Department permission from his West Seneca home into a rented flat in the same community either in late 1998 or early this year. He returned home in May.
The judge also told Pignataro he was upset to learn only through recent media accounts that since late August he has been living with his mother, Lena, in her West Seneca home.
After Tills told Pignataro "this court will violate (convict) you" of probation violation charges for any further misconduct, Daniels assured the judge his client will properly notify county probation officials should he decide to move from his mother's home.
Daniels said Pignataro moved because "he felt that it would be better for him if he lived with his mother" under the current circumstances involving his family.
During the brief session, Pignataro remained silent but nodded in agreement with the judge's orders.
Frank A. Sedita III, chief of the Erie County District Attorney's Special Investigations Bureau and lead prosecutor in the arsenic inquiry, attended the court session but declined to comment. Pignataro and Daniels also declined to comment as they left court.
Under the terms of the prosecution-approved sentence Tills imposed 13 months ago, Pignataro remains on probation until August 2003.
Probation officials, Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark and Sedita all declined to comment. But sources close to the investigation of the poisoning of Deborah Pignataro confirmed that last week a woman reportedly romantically linked to Pignataro has been questioned.
Court sources confirmed that Clark had the woman, who reportedly now has an attorney who urged her to cooperate, questioned in private last week about the current situation involving Pignataro and his estranged wife.
Mrs. Pignataro, 42, remains hospitalized and the Pignataros' children are living in the Buffalo area with their maternal uncle under Family Court order.
Investigative sources close to the poisoning probe confirmed that Mrs. Pignataro suffered nearly fatal arsenic poisoning and the arsenic level found in her system was "off the charts."
The arsenic levels found in the Pignataro children were found to be a little high, but possibly normal for children, sources said.
Buffalo attorney Anne E. Adams, who handled Pignataro's unsuccessful bid to get his parole shifted to Florida earlier this year, Tuesday said, "I have declined to represent him" further. She would not elaborate.