A pharmacist from the Massachusetts company linked to tainted drugs that killed 64 people fears that federal prosecutors have chosen him to be the “scapegoat’’ for the medical disaster, his lawyer said Thursday.
Glenn Adam Chin was arraigned in US District Court on a one-count mail fraud indictment stemming from the investigation into the New England Compounding Center, where the tainted prescription drugs were allegedly made and then shipped across the country.
US Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s office and the Justice Department’s consumer protection branch have been investigating the compounding center since a nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak began in fall 2012. Prosecutors said 751 patients fell ill after receiving contaminated medicine and 64 died.
Chin, who authorities allege was a supervising pharmacist at a New England Compounding lab where some of the tainted drugs were created, is the only person connected to the company who is currently facing criminal charges, though prosecutors said the investigation remains ongoing.
His lawyer, Stephen J. Weymouth, said Chin fears he has been chosen to bear the punishment for all those involved.
“He fears the US government is trying to make him a scapegoat out of this,’’ said Weymouth, who was temporarily appointed to represent Chin, pending a review of the defendant’s financial status. “I am sure that someone needs to be blamed, but I am not sure it is him.’’
Chin was arrested at Logan International Airport in Boston last week as he and his family prepared to board a plane for Hong Kong.
Weymouth said Chin was not trying to flee the country but was traveling with his grandmother, wife, and their two children, ages 2 and 6, for a vacation.
Weymouth said Chin had a round-trip ticket and noted that the rest of his family flew to Hong Kong after Chin was taken into custody.
“He had documentation showing he was going to Hong Kong,’’ Weymouth said. “It was a return trip.’’
Weymouth said Chin has been out of work for months, since the tainted drugs were traced back to New England Compounding.
“He’s nervous. He’s anxious,’’ Weymouth said. “He’s depressed. He’s confused. He doesn’t know what is going to happen.’’
Chin, a Canton resident, was released Thursday on $50,000 unsecured bond. He is under house arrest and agreed to surrender his passport and wear an electronic monitoring bracelet. Weymouth said he may seek to change bail conditions in coming weeks.
Prosecutors said that if convicted, Chin faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
According to the criminal complaint filed last week by Benedict Celso, a special agent for the Food and Drug Administration, Chin supervised four pharmacists and 10 pharmacy technicians in so-called “clean rooms,” and was personally responsible for compounding steroid stock solutions.
Celso wrote that Chin employed “unsafe practices” including improper sterilization and testing.
Chin was in charge on June 29, 2012, when one batch of methylprednisolone acetate was made. Chin, the federal complaint alleges, “directed that filled vials be sent out of the clean room for shipment to NECC customers.’’
On Aug. 7, 2012, Michigan Pain Specialists in Brighton, Mich., ordered 400 vials of the material, the complaint alleged. New England Compounding sent the requested vials, each of which included the abbreviation for “injectable’’ on the label, indicating the medicine “was sterile and fit for human use,” the complaint said.
Over the next two months, doctors at the Michigan clinic injected 625 patients with the compound, the complaint alleges.
After receiving the injections, 217 patients contracted fungal infections; 15 of them died, according to the complaint.Milton J. Valencia can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia. John R. Ellement can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.