Pharmacy executive tied to 2012 U.S. meningitis outbreak gets nine years in prison

BOSTON (Reuters) - A former Massachusetts pharmacy executive was sentenced to nine years in prison on Monday after being convicted of racketeering and fraud charges for his role in a deadly U.S. meningitis outbreak in 2012.

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Barry Cadden, the co-founder and former president of the now-defunct New England Compounding Center, was convicted in March of those crimes by a federal jury in Boston but cleared of the harshest charges he faced, second-degree murder.

Prosecutors had asked U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns in Boston to sentence Cadden, 50, to 35 years in prison, saying he directed the production of drugs in unsanitary and dangerous ways to boost the compounding pharmacy’s profits.

His greed and those shortcuts led to 778 patients nationwide being harmed after receiving contaminated steroids, prosecutors said. That includes 76 people who died, they said.

Stearns said if he was a victim, he would have wanted the maximum sentence, as some had advocated. He said he spent the weekend reviewing statements from the victims.

“The most common word that repeats itself is pain,” he said.

But Stearns said he could not allow outrage to interfere with reaching a fair sentence. Some victims expressed disappointment.

“It’s a slap in the face,” said Dawn Elliott, an Indiana woman who received steroid injections and was subsequently bedridden for over a year.

Cadden’s lawyers sought only three years in prison. In court, he tearfully apologized.

“As head of a company that made drugs that killed and sickened these people, I say with full sincerity that it breaks my heart to read about how painful their deaths were,” he said.

Cadden was one of 14 people tied to Framingham, Massachusetts-based New England Compounding Center (NECC) indicted in 2014 following the outbreak. He was one of only two people to face second-degree murder charges.

Prosecutors said Cadden, the head pharmacist, ran NECC as a criminal enterprise that sold substandard and non-sterile drugs produced in filthy conditions and shipped to medical facilities nationally.

They said Cadden directed the shipment of thousands of vials of contaminated steroids often prescribed for back pain despite knowing they were made in unsafe conditions.

Cadden denied wrongdoing. His lawyers said he never intended to sell contaminated drugs.

Victims include Penny Laperriere, whose husband Lyn died after receiving a steroid shot. She told Stearns that what Cadden did was “unforgivable.”

“Who gave him the right to play God?” the Michigan woman said.

Reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Scott Malone, Bill Trott and Diane Craft