Poison Doctor, Swango, Indicted

ByFrank Eltman

G A R D E N  C I T Y, N.Y., July 11, 2000 -- Michael Swango, a former doctor longsuspected of poisoning patients from Ohio to Zimbabwe, was chargedtoday with killing three patients in 1993 at a Long Islandveterans hospital.

Federal prosecutors announced the new charges — which couldcarry the death penalty — days before Swango was to be releasedfrom a Colorado prison. He had been held there after confessing tolying about his criminal history on a job application, a chargeprosecutors brought in part to buy them time to build the murdercase.

Swango, said U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, was “exactly the kindof doctor you would want to avoid. The problem is, his appearance,his mannerisms and everything he did was designed to draw people inand make them trust him — when they should not have.”

Prosecutors suspect that soon after graduating from SouthernIllinois University Medical School in 1983, Swango set off on across-country, then intercontinental spree of poisoning patientsand co-workers for more than a decade.

Poison, and DeathSwango, 45, is completing a 42-month prison sentence for lyingon an application for a residency at Stony Brook University MedicalCenter. He admitted failing to disclose that he had spent 30 monthsin jail and lost his medical license in 1985 for poisoning sixco-workers in Quincy, Ill.

None of the people died in that case.

But after Swango was hired by Stony Brook, three patients diddie in his care at the Veterans Administration Hospital run by theuniversity in Northport, prosecutors said.

Swango is suspected of killing all three patients by injectingthem with toxins. In two of the cases, the doctor is accused offalsely telling associates that the patients’ families had issued“do not resuscitate” orders.

The patients died between July and October 1993.

More Charges LeviedProsecutors also believe a fourth patient was poisoned, butthere wasn’t enough evidence to prove the injection led to death.Swango is charged with assault in that case.

For a brief time in 1992, Swango worked in a residency programat the University of South Dakota, but was fired from there too forlying about criminal record.

In gathering evidence while Swango was in prison in Colorado,prosecutors had the bodies of some of the victims exhumed and newtoxicological tests performed.

Swango was fired by Stony Brook University on Oct. 13, 1993,after officials there learned he lied about his criminal past. Hehad told Stony Brook officials that his conviction was related to abar fight, rather than the poisonings.

Prosecutors also linked Swango today to the death of a19-year-old patient at Ohio State University Hospital in January1984, and another poisoning at the same facility a month later. Thevictim survived in the latter case. The indictment alleges Swangopoisoned both those patients, but charges were never filed.

On to ZimbabweWhen Swango left Stony Brook, he headed for Zimbabwe, where hewas hired by the Zimbabwe Association of Church Hospitals in 1994,according to today’s 17-page indictment. About a year later,patients at hospitals there began showing signs of poisoning.

Swango was suspended from practice at the Mnene Mission Hospitalin Zimbabwe in July 1995. Prosecutors there are still investigatingand cooperated with U.S. prosecutors in preparing today’sindictment, Lynch said.

The doctor was arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport in 1997, enroute to a new job in Saudi Arabia.

He was just days from being released from custody in Florence,Colo., when the indictment was announced.

Lynch said Swango will be transferred to New York to face thelatest charges. No date was set for arraignment.

Swango’s court-appointed lawyer, Randi Chavis, did notimmediately return a call seeking comment.

Lynch said the most difficult question about this case is “whysomebody would take their medical degree and embark upon a careerof killing and assaulting people.”

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