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1 man may have put hundreds at risk

The man accused of infecting nine women and girls with HIV in Chautauqua County has told authorities that he had sex with dozens of women in New York City this year, state health officials said Tuesday, raising the possibility that he has, directly or indirectly, exposed hundreds of people to AIDS.

State Health Commissioner Barbara DeBuono said at a news conference here that the man, Nushawn Williams, had told health investigators that he had sex with 50 to 75 women since moving there early this year. Officials in the New York City Health Department said the correct figure is lower, but still quite high.

Williams, 20, has been arrested at least seven times, including on 1994 murder charge of which he was acquitted. He served time in prison as a youth, and he is described by the authorities as a drug dealer and car thief.

The portrait of his sex life that has emerged here, in far western New York, is no more flattering. Officials describe him as a sexual predator who lurked around parks and schools, looking for teen-age girls and possibly trading sex for drugs, even after he knew that he carried HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Investigators say that he directly infected nine girls and women, ranging in age from 13 to 20, and that they believe one of those nine gave the virus to another man, for a total of 10 victims.

And the count of people whom Williams might have exposed to HIV in this region continued to rise Tuesday. Officials say he is known to have had sex with 28 women and girls while he lived in nearby Jamestown, and Chautauqua County Health Commissioner Robert Berke said the number of people confirmed to have had sex later with those 28 stood at 70, up from 53 Monday. Officials do not yet know the HIV status of all 70.

Health officials said that Tuesday morning alone, about two dozen people contacted local health clinics or the county Health Department to report that they might have had sex with Williams' former partners. And while local officials said they were confident they knew the HIV status of all the women Williams had sex with here, a young woman claiming to have been his girlfriend _ and apparently not one of the 28 _ was tested for the first time Tuesday.

"I have not seen anything quite like this," Dr. DeBuono said.

Chautauqua District Attorney James Subjack likened the case to a pyramid, with Williams at its pinnacle. "No one knows how wide the base is," he said. "It's exponential. It could be hundreds of people already."

New York City health officials now face the daunting job of tracing each of the people Williams had sex with, encouraging them to be tested and persuading them to divulge the names of other sex partners they have had so that those people can be tested, too.

That task is well under way here, aided by 20 state health investigators who arrived Tuesday, and two epidemiologists from the Centers for Disease Control, who arrived Monday.

Drugs played a role in Williams' sexual contacts with at least some women here, and some of those contacts may have been exchanges of drugs for sex, Gerace said. But in most of the cases, it appears that Williams relied on nothing more potent than his considerable charm.

He was arrested three times in this area in 1996, and jailed briefly twice.

Officials here think Williams returned to New York City early this year. For at least part of the year, he was homeless, according to health officials who have interviewed him.

On July 10, he was arrested in the Bronx after taking another car for a joyride. He served five days, and was released.

Dr. DeBuono said that it was New York City health officials who told her that, when they interviewed Williams last week, he gave the names of between 50 and 75 women he had had sex with in New York City. But Steven Rubin, deputy director of the city Health Department's Bureau of Sexually Transmitted Diseases, said that while Williams had "an unusually high case load of partners," it was not as many as 50. He would not give a figure.

It appears that another sexually transmitted disease, possibly syphilis, played a crucial role in bringing the links to Williams to light. Health officials said that neither Williams nor any of the nine people he is suspected of giving the virus suspected they were HIV-positive. Rather, he and at least some of the girls went to local clinics for treatment of a venereal disease, which one official identified, in Williams' case, as syphilis.

The case marks the first time since passage in 1987 of the state's HIV confidentiality law that government officials in New York have publicly identified someone as being HIV-positive, state and local officials said.

The law keeps the names of people infected secret, but provides for an exception when a person poses an "imminent danger" to public health, and county officials apparently became the first to take advantage of that exception Monday, when they obtained a court order allowing them to release Williams' name.

Local officials began a week ago to alert city and county health officials to look though their records for Williams or anyone going by any of the dozen aliases he used, and it was that search that turned him up in the Rikers Island jail.

"We have been trying to trace his travels and see if he went anywhere else" besides here and New York City, Dr. DeBuono said, "but at this point, we have no evidence of that."

The planned prosecution of Williams, like the disclosure of his name, is a legal rarity. Subjack, the district attorney, plans to file a first-degree assault charge _ a crime carrying a maximum sentence of 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison _ against Williams for each of the six women and girls he is accused of infecting after he learned, in September 1996, that he was HIV-positive.