Dr. William Spencer, a well-regarded physician and Sufolk County legislator, was arraigned Wednesday on charges that he attempted to trade drugs for sexual favors.
He pleaded not guilty by video to two B felonies, third-degree sale of a controlled substance and third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and then left First District Court in Central Islip, surrounded by court officers and his lawyer, his head down. He declined to respond to questions. He was required to surrender his passport.
He faces as much as 9 years in prison on the two charges.
Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini said the investigation is “very much ongoing,” and that police are continuing to execute search warrants and investigating other possible crimes.
Sini said Spencer, 53, was arrested Tuesday when he met someone he believed was a prostitute behind the Goodwill store in Elwood, planning to trade two oxycodone pills for sex. The contact was actually an undercover officer who had agreed to meet Spencer, in an investigation that grew out of a Drug Enforcement Administration.
He also had a loaded gun in the Suffolk County car he was driving, which Spencer has a permit. Sini also said that Spencer acknowledged wrongdoing when he was arrested but declined to provide details.
Spencer, who was chief of otolaryngology at Huntington Hospital, was suspended by the hospital, a spokeswoman said. “Dr. William Spencer is not an employed physician at Huntington Hospital but has privileges as a voluntary physician with his own private practice. His privileges at the hospital have been temporarily suspended pending further investigation.”
His status with the legislature was unclear Wednesday afternoon, though Suffolk County Republican chair Jesse Garcia told Newsday the allegation indicated “an astounding betrayal of trust.”
“This alleged act was an attempt to abuse his position of power and trust, prey on women and take advantage of those he believed were prisoners of addiction,” Garcia said. “I hope Dr. Spencer receives the help he needs. Our prayers are with his family during this difficult time.”
Huntington Town Democratic chair Frank Petrone said, “He has to put together the course that’s best for him and his family. He’s been a fighter for the 18th District since the day he took office and we know he’ll fight equally hard for his family.”
The Centerport resident has been serving as Democratic majority leader in the Suffolk County Legislature, where he is known for taking numerous health initiatives from cracking down on the level of nicotine in products, to energy drinks and smoking by young people. His genial manner has made him popular among patients and their families as well as the general public.
This story will update.