NECC co-owner convicted in meningitis outbreak
The former co-owner and head pharmacist at a Framingham company that shipped tainted drugs across the country, causing more than 60 deaths and hundreds of illnesses, was convicted of fraud and racketeering Wednesday, though a federal jury refused to brand him a murderer.
Barry J. Cadden, who jurors found had run New England Compounding Center like a criminal enterprise, could serve several years in prison. But the jury’s verdict spared him from a life sentence in one of the worst pharmaceutical scandals in US history.
Cadden, 50, of Weymouth, appeared stoic as the court clerk sorted through a 21-page verdict slip to declare him guilty on 57 of the 96 charges he faced, including conspiracy, fraud, and racketeering, which means he participated in a criminal enterprise to boost profits. He was escorted by his lawyers to a car waiting outside the courthouse, and left without commenting. He is slated to be sentenced June 21.
“This case was a national tragedy,” Acting US Attorney William Weinreb said at a news conference after the verdict was announced. “Barry Cadden put profits over patients. He used [New England Compounding] to perpetrate a massive fraud that harmed hundreds of people, but the jury saw through that fraud, and today they held Barry Cadden responsible for his crimes.”
It was the first in an expected series of criminal trials linked to the tainted drug scandal that opened a window onto the little-known compounding industry. Those pharmacies specialize in making drugs tailored to the needs of doctors and patients. Lawyers for Cadden, a founding owner of New England Compounding, sought to label the meningitis outbreak an unfortunate tragedy in a high-risk business.
The jury of nine women and three men deliberated for 20 hours before reaching its verdict. The trial lasted nine weeks and included testimony from more than 60 witnesses.
Weinreb said he was disappointed jurors could not agree that Cadden was responsible for the deaths of patients, but said the trial showed the extent of his wrongdoing and how it caused an outbreak of fungal meningitis. He said more than 60 people “died because of the tainted drugs that were distributed on Mr. Cadden’s watch.”
Bruce Singal, an attorney for Cadden, said he would appeal on the grounds there was insufficient evidence to hold Cadden responsible for the outbreak, saying Cadden was an executive not directly involved in mixing drugs. Singal said Cadden was mindful it was important “to remember the victims of this public health tragedy,” but said his client should never have been accused of murder.
“Murder is the worst crime known to humanity, and it is a terrible injustice that Barry Cadden was labeled with this charge by the government for more than two years,” Singal said. “It was unprovable, unwarranted, and unjustified, and we are deeply grateful the jury saw it that way.”
The fraud and racketeering convictions each carry potential punishments of up to 20 years in prison, though multiple sentences are often layered on top of each other and are served at the same time. Cadden’s sentence would be based on sentencing guidelines that account for his convictions and the nature of the crimes, but also his personal characteristics and lack of a criminal record. Weinreb said prosecutors were still assessing an appropriate sentence recommendation based on sentencing guidelines and the jury’s verdict.
To family members whose relatives died from the tainted drugs or to people left with unremitting pain, the jury’s verdict was small comfort. Cadden, they said, should have been convicted of murder.
“I am sad it is not murder, but he knows what he has done,” said Carol Burema Snyder, whose mother, Pauline Burema, died in October 2012 after receiving a tainted steroid injunction. She was 89 and had been living in Michigan.
Dee Morell said she still suffers such intense pain in her hip from the contaminated shot she received in 2012 that she has been unable to work and requires daily pain medication.
“He had no regard for human life, really. He was very greed-oriented,” she said.
Morell said she hopes to attend the April trial of another New England Compounding pharmacist accused of causing deaths, Glenn A. Chin. In his trial, Cadden had sought to place blame on Chin.
Prosecutors described for jurors, however, how Cadden skirted industry regulations to boost profits, well aware of the inherent dangers. In sales pitches, he vowed that the pharmacy adhered to testing protocols and used state-of-the-art equipment, but knew that was not the case.
Instead, the drugs were produced in unsanitary conditions, leading to fungus contamination of three batches of a steroid, methylprednisolone acetate, in summer 2012. Vials of the steroid were shipped to doctors at pain management clinics, who injected patients with the sullied drugs.
The verdict was split, with jurors agreeing to convict Cadden on some fraud charges, but not all. Jurors convicted Cadden of sending out the contaminated drugs, though they acquitted him of charges that he sought to mislead customers by providing them with adulterated drugs. He was also found not guilty of charges that he knowingly mislabeled drugs.
Cadden was also acquitted of charges that he sought to defraud the US Food and Drug Administration by treating his center as a pharmacy, rather than a manufacturing center, which would have subjected New England Compounding to greater federal scrutiny.
Weinreb would not say how prosecutors will proceed with other criminal cases related to the outbreak, including the April trial of Chin, who was Cadden’s supervisory pharmacist.
Seven other workers, including pharmacists at the Framingham center, are slated to go to trial on related charges. US District Judge Richard G. Stearns dismissed charges against two other people. A former salesman, Robert Ronzio, pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the government and testify against Cadden. He has not been sentenced.
Chin’s lawyer, Stephen Weymouth, said in an interview that prosecutors should scale back the case against his client based on the jury’s verdict in Cadden’s case — if Chin’s case goes to trial at all. He said Chin might admit to some of the charges, but not murder.
“This was a pretty smart jury. I think they got it right across the board,” Weymouth said, adding the murder charges “should never have been brought by the government.”
Weinreb defended prosecutors’ decision to charge Cadden with directly causing deaths, despite the verdict. “Mr. Cadden’s full conduct was amply laid out over the course of the two months that this trial took place, and we’re very pleased to have had that opportunity to tell that story so that the whole world would know what Mr. Cadden did,” Weinreb said.