In the biggest criminal case ever brought in the U.S. over contaminated medicine, 14 former owners or employees of New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Massachusetts, were charged Wednesday in connection with a 2012 meningitis outbreak that killed 64 people.
US attorney Carmen Ortiz in Boston obtained a grand jury indictment alleging that under the laws of 7 states, 25 of those deaths amount to second-degree murder because pharmacy owner Barry Cadden and supervising pharmacist Glenn Adam Chin acted in "extreme indifference to human life" in allowing the contaminated steroid pain medicine to be shipped out. Beyond the 64 who died beginning in the late summer of 2012, another 687 were sickened.
"That indictment charges 14 individuals with offenses ranging from RICO murder to conspiracy to defraud the government to other charges as well," Ortiz said. "Production and profits were prioritized over safety."
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Attorneys for Cadden, of Wrentham, Massachusetts, and Chin, of Canton, Massachusetts, said they were stunned by the second-degree murder racketeering charges and stressed the men have fully cooperated with the probe.
Cadden's attorney Stephen Weymouth said, "I certainly didn't expect racketeering in connection with second degree murder and mail fraud. My client's charged with, I couldn't even count that high, 77 counts or something like that? Yes, I was totally shocked by this indictment."
"He's pleading not guilty. He will be proven not guilty of that and the other charges," Chin's attorney, Bruce Singal, added.
Additionally, 12 other people from the pharmacy are facing multiple other charges, including pharmacy co-owners Doug and Carla Conigliaro of Dedham, Massachusetts, being indicted on charges of "structuring" or in effect seeking to hide $33 million in assets from the bankruptcy court now overseeing the liquidation of NECC.
Earlier this month lawyers announced a $135 million fund from NECC assets to pay victims and their families in the case.
Attorney Kim Dougherty of Janet, Jenner & Suggs, who represents 100 victims of the pharmacy's contaminated steroids, said, "The charges are serious because what's happened to them is very serious. The suffering is very serious."
Dougherty said she hopes the new indictments may yield additional relief money beyond the $135 million. "What we're also hoping through the criminal trial is that the government will also set up a victim compensation fund so that they will further receive compensation for their suffering," Dougherty said.
Ortiz was asked why it had taken more than two years after the first fungal meningitis outbreaks tied to the contaminated back pain steroid medications for comprehensive indictments to be brought.
"In many ways, I've been frustrated by how long it's taken, because we've been anxious to get to this point, but we wanted to be sure we got it right," Ortiz said. "We wanted to be thorough. We wanted to be careful. We did not want to rush to judgement. There have been tens of thousands of documents that our team has been reviewing. There have been hundreds and hundreds of potential victims. ... It's not the kind of investigation where you just snap your fingers and it's done."
In all, the tainted medication was shipped to and used on patients in 20 states. According to Centers for Disease Control data released by Ortiz's office, Michigan had the most people affected with 264, followed by 153 in Tennessee, 93 in Indiana, 54 in Virginia and 51 in New Jersey. The only New England states reporting cases of fungal meningitis caused by the NECC medication were New Hampshire (14) and Rhode Island (3).
The 14 individuals charged in the indictment are Barry J. Cadden, 48, of Wrentham, Massachusetts; Glenn A. Chin, 46, of Canton, Massachusetts; Gene Svirskiy, 33, of Ashland, Massachusetts; Christopher M. Leary, 30, of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts; Joseph M. Evanosky, 42, of Westford, Massachusetts; Scott M. Connolly, 42, of East Greenwich, Rhode Island; Sharon P. Carter, 50, of Hopkinton, Massachusetts; Alla V. Stepanets, 34, of Framingham, Massachusetts; Gregory A. Conigliaro, 49 of Southborough, Massachusetts; Robert A. Ronzio, 40, of North Providence, Rhode Island; Kathy Chin, 42, of Canton, Massachusetts; Michelle Thomas, 31 of Cumberland, Rhode Island; Carla Conigliaro, 51, of Dedham, Massachusetts and Douglas A. Conigliaro, 53, of Dedham, Massachusetts.