A Massachusetts pharmacist was convicted of racketeering and fraud charges but was cleared of murder for his role in a 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak that killed 76 people and sickened hundreds more across the United States.
Jurors found that federal prosecutors in Boston failed to prove Glenn Chin, 49, committed second-degree murder in connection with the deaths of 25 people who were injected with mold-tainted steroids produced at the now-defunct New England Compounding Center.
The federal jury instead on Wednesday found Chin guilty on racketeering, conspiracy and mail fraud charges stemming from his role as the pharmacist who supervised the so-called clean rooms in which NECC’s drugs were made.
Glenn Chin, the former supervisory pharmacist at the now-closed New England Compounding Center, was found not guilty of murder for his role in a 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak that killed 76 people
Chin, 49, was found guilty on racketeering, conspiracy and mail fraud charges. Chin acted as the pharmacist who supervised the rooms in which NECC’s drugs were made
The verdict came after a separate jury in March found Barry Cadden, NECC’s co-founder and former president, guilty of racketeering and fraud but similarly cleared him of murder.
Cadden, 50, tearfully apologized to the victims in June before he was sentenced to nine years in prison.
‘No matter what these prosecutors tell you, this was never a murder case, ever, ever, ever,’ said Stephen Weymouth, Chin’s lawyer.
He called the verdict a victory, noting that a murder conviction would have exposed Chin to a maximum prison sentence of life.
Weymouth said he now expected Chin to receive a prison term no longer than Cadden’s when he is sentenced January 30.
Prosecutors say that 778 people nationwide were sickened after being injected with contaminated steroids produced in unsanitary conditions at the Framingham, Massachusetts-based NECC.
The NECC is now defunct. A fungal meningitis outbreak and other infections were blamed on contaminated injections of medical steroids, given mostly to people with back pain, by the company
Officials say that 76 people died as a result of the incident, at that 778 people were injured
The outbreak led Congress in 2013 to pass a law that aimed to clarify the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s ability to oversee large compounding pharmacies that make custom drugs.
Prosecutors said Chin directed staff in NECC’s clean rooms to skip cleaning despite the presence of insects, mice and mold.
They claimed Chin disregarded the probability that people could die if he failed to ensure drugs were produced in sanitary conditions and were properly sterilized in order to keep up with demand from hospitals nationally for its medicines.
His lawyers countered that Chin never meant for anyone to die.
They said blame instead rested with Cadden, who made all of the decisions at NECC and trained Chin on how to produce drugs in the ways that prosecutors contend were unsafe.
Lesser charges were filed against 12 other people associated with NECC. Three have pleaded guilty.
A federal judge dismissed charges against two defendants in 2016. Charges remain pending against the rest.
Barry Cadden (right) was the co-founder and former president of NECC. He was found guilty of racketeering and fraud earlier this year. He was sentenced to nine years in prison. Chin (left) will be sentenced in January
Chin was charged with the deaths of 25 people in Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
He would have faced up to life in prison had he been convicted of the murders. He is set to be sentenced in January.
Experts and even Chin’s attorney had said before the trial that they believed prosecutors had a stronger case against Chin than they had against Cadden because Chin was the one mixing the drugs in the clean rooms.
The outbreak of fungal meningitis and other infections was blamed on contaminated injections of medical steroids, given mostly to people with back pain.
More than 700 people in 20 states were sickened in what’s considered the worst public health crisis in recent U.S. history.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put the death toll at 64 in 2013. Federal officials identified additional victims in their investigation, raising the number of deaths to 76.
HOW THE DRUGS CAUSED MENINGITIS
NECC distributed nearly 18,000 vials of mold-contaminated steroids to 23 states in 2012.
The drugs triggered meningitis in hundreds of people.
This specific strain of the illness was caused by a fungus called Exserohilum rostratum, a black mold that normally attacks plants.
The fungus is so rare in humans that doctors had no idea how long it would incubate in the human body, as they struggled to treat the influx of cases.
‘Mr. Chin ran NECC’s clean room operations with depraved disregard for human lives,’ Acting U.S. Attorney William Weinreb said in a news release Wednesday. ‘As a licensed pharmacist, Chin took an oath to protect patients, but instead deliberately violated safety regulations.’
FBI special agent in charge Harold Shaw said Chin ‘gambled with patients’ lives’ by cutting corners and ignoring the warning signs that his production methods were unsafe.
‘Hundreds of patients were unnecessarily harmed from his reckless disregard for health and safety regulations,’ Shaw said.
Scott Shaw, whose mother, Elwina Shaw, died after she was injected with the contaminated drugs, said he was surprised and disappointed jurors refused to find Chin responsible for the deaths.
‘It was his hand, no doubt, that mixed that medicine that killed mom,’ the North Carolina man said.
The outbreak sparked calls for increased regulation of compounding pharmacies, which differ from ordinary drugstores in that they custom-mix medications and supply them directly to hospitals and doctors.
Congress in 2013 passed a bill giving federal officials more oversight of the pharmacies.