Metro

Jury to decide fate of pharmacist at center of meningitis outbreak

Glenn Chin.
Steven Senne/Associated Press/File 2017
Glenn Chin.

After a monthlong trial, jurors Monday will begin deliberating whether the supervisor of a former compounding pharmacy that made and shipped drugs contaminated with a deadly mold should be held responsible for the deaths of dozens of people.

Glenn Chin, who once oversaw 20 people at the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted on a slew of racketeering charges, including second-degree murder.

Chin, 49, is charged with killing 25 people who died in 2012 after they received epidural steroid shots made at NECC, which turned large profits touting itself to doctors and hospitals as the most trustworthy compounding pharmacy in the country.

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In reality, the center was filthy — plagued by bugs and mice and even pubic hair, Assistant US Attorney Amanda Strachan told the jury in her closing arguments Friday at the federal courthouse in Boston.

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Chin scribbled in a notepad and shook his head as Strachan told the jury Chin had repeatedly ignored warning signs that the center’s “clean room,” where drugs were produced, had become a breeding ground for deadly mold. She said he callously signed off on a shipment of drugs he knew could be contaminated to keep pace with the strong demand for NECC’s products.

“He knew he was making nonsterile drugs,” Strachan said. “Glenn Chin just didn’t care.”

Prosecutors say Chin was the “right-hand man” of Barry Cadden, who started NECC with his wife in 1998.

Chin and Cadden used expired medication, mislabeled drugs, and distributed drugs they knew could be tainted with fungus, prosecutors say. That led to an outbreak of fungal meningitis that was ultimately blamed for 76 deaths and hundreds of illnesses across the country, according to government officials.

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Cadden was convicted in March of conspiracy, mail fraud, and racketeering but was acquitted of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to nine years in prison.

Chin’s lawyer, Stephen Weymouth, told jurors Friday that a 2012 investigation by the US Food and Drug Administration into the Framingham center had failed to uncover the source of the contamination. He recalled the testimony of a microbiologist involved in the investigation who took swabs of the roof of the center and the boiler room but not areas of the clean room where certain medications were made.

It was “a complete investigatory failure on the part of the FDA,” Weymouth said. “The FDA could not determine the route of contamination. That was what their job was.”

Weymouth described a chaotic environment of “goofball” pharmacy technicians that Chin couldn’t oversee.

“Glenn Chin didn’t know how to supervise anybody,” Weymouth said. “Glenn Chin was not competent to do that job. Glenn Chin would do anything and everything Barry Cadden told him to do.”

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By contrast, Strachan portrayed Chin as a tyrannical boss with full control over his technicians, who felt intimidated by him.

In an e-mail, a quality control supervisor timidly reminded Chin that he needed to sign off on standard operating procedures for running the lab.

“F-off,” he wrote back, according to copies of the e-mails prosecutors showed the jury.

During his summation, Weymouth sought to undermine that supervisor’s testimony by dismissing her as another incompetent employee, a “yes woman” Cadden hired to maintain control.

Weymouth called on the jury to set aside any anger they might feel at Chin’s inability to control the state of the clean room.

“Negligence, even gross culpable negligence, is not enough to support a second-degree murder conviction,” Weymouth said.

For years, sales representatives from NECC had told medical centers, doctors, and hospitals that the compounding center hired registered, trained technicians and that all medication was tested to ensure it was sterile, then quarantined before shipping. None of that was true, Strachan said.

During the trial, former NECC employees testified that cleaning logs were falsified, untested drugs were shipped without notifying doctors and patients, and the clean room floors were cracked, allowing oil to bubble up. One former employee testified that Chin ordered him to cover the cracks with barrels to hide them from federal investigators.

At the end of her summation, Strachan showed the jury pictures of the 25 victims. Her voice shaking, she read each of their names aloud. The list overwhelmed Lydia Doyon, a 49-year-old mother of four who traveled from her home in Oxford, Mich., to attend the last week of the trial. Doyon said she was among the hundreds who received a tainted epidural shot.

She still suffers from headaches, memory problems, and impaired vision. After Strachan’s closing argument, Doyon broke into tears and hugged her.

“I’m one of the lucky ones who survived,” Doyon said. “By the grace of God I survived. My heart is just broken for the people who died.”

Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeMCramer.