Pharmacist guilty of fraud, not murder, in U.S. meningitis outbreak

BOSTON (Reuters) - The co-founder of a now-defunct Massachusetts compounding pharmacy was found guilty of racketeering and fraud but cleared of murder on Wednesday for his role in a 2012 meningitis outbreak that killed 64 people across the United States.

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Barry Cadden, who was a co-owner and president of New England Compounding Center, was convicted by a federal jury in Boston after a two-month trial centered on an outbreak linked to the company’s drug that sickened 753 people in 20 states.

The outbreak was the largest U.S. public health crisis involving a pharmaceutical drug. It led to new regulations on compounding pharmacies, which mix drugs but had been treated with a lighter hand than registered drug manufacturers.

Cadden, 50, was convicted on 52 counts of mail fraud and five other counts, including racketeering and racketeering conspiracy, and found not guilty of 39 other charges.

He was one of two people charged with second-degree murder for his role in the case. An attorney for the other murder defendant NECC supervisory pharmacist Glenn Chin, said after learning of the verdict that he planned to seek a plea deal for his client.

“I would be willing to recommend that he plead guilty to those mail fraud counts and others but not to the homicides,” attorney Steven Weymouth said.

A spokeswoman for federal prosecutors declined to comment on the idea of reopening plea talks.

Cadden plans to appeal his conviction but was gratified to have been cleared of murder, said his attorney, Bruce Singal.

“It was unprovable, unwarranted and unjustified,” Singal said of the murder charge.

Acting U.S. Attorney William Weinreb expressed disappointment that jurors rejected the murder charges, which carried a potential life sentence.

At least three of the 12 jurors had voted to acquit on each of the 25 murder charges.

Cadden is due to be sentenced on June 21. The fraud charges he was convicted of each carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

Cadden was charged in 2014 with killing 25 patients in seven states who were injected with fungus-ridden steroids produced by Framingham, Massachusetts-based NECC.

Prosecutors contended Cadden, NECC’s head pharmacist, directed the shipment of 17,600 vials of contaminated steroids often prescribed for back pain despite knowing they were made in unsafe conditions.

NECC filed for bankruptcy in 2014. In 2015, it agreed to pay $200 million to victims and creditors, a sum that included funds seized from Cadden.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Scott Malone and Lisa Shumaker