Metro

Government seeks $73m for victims of 2012 meningitis outbreak

Barry Cadden was convicted in March of running a criminal enterprise — the New England Compounding Center — that mailed thousands of contaminated drugs.
Keith Bedford/Globe Staff/File 2017
Barry Cadden was convicted in March of running a criminal enterprise — the New England Compounding Center — that mailed thousands of contaminated drugs.

Barry J. Cadden, owner of the now-defunct Framingham compounding pharmacy that was responsible for a deadly meningitis outbreak five years ago, should pay $73.7 million in restitution to the victims, federal prosecutors say.

Cadden was convicted in March of running a criminal enterprise — the New England Compounding Center — that mailed thousands of drugs contaminated with a mold that killed more than 60 people and sickened more than 700.

He should now be required to compensate roughly half the victims for lost income and expenses, said Assistant US Attorney George Varghese, who prosecuted Cadden in federal court.

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“The patients identified in the fungal meningitis outbreak would not have been harmed but for the conduct underlying Cadden’s criminal offenses,” Varghese wrote in a motion filed Tuesday.

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In June, Cadden was sentenced to nine years in prison. He was spared a life sentence after a jury acquitted him of second-degree murder for the deaths of 25 people who became fatally ill after they were injected with tainted drugs.

Prosecutors said the victims qualify for financial relief under the Mandatory Victim Restitution Act, which can compensate those harmed directly by criminal conduct.

To tally the victims’ financial losses, prosecutors hired two economists from TAB Consulting in Boston, Thomas A. Barocci and Joshua Anderson.

The government received 349 requests for restitution from victims and their families, who listed a range of financial obligations — from burying their loved ones to copayments for wheelchairs and walkers they will need the rest of their lives. Many were forced to quit jobs after they fell ill.

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The pleas were heartbreaking, Barocci said.

“You almost cry when you read some of these statements,” he said. “ ‘I’m now disabled permanently. I can’t eat. I can’t sit. I can’t walk. My life is over.’ . . . This is a tragedy that could have been avoided.”

Barocci said the recommended payments range from $500 to several million dollars.

Cadden’s lawyer, Bruce Singal, said prosecutors fail to realize the jury did not find Cadden directly responsible for the deaths.

“I think the central point is that the government misperceives what Mr. Cadden was convicted of and what he was acquitted of,” Singal said. “What he was convicted of was mail fraud.”

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Singal said Cadden and his wife have already paid $24 million to the victims as part of a 2014 civil settlement. Asked if Cadden can pay the amount the government is seeking, Singal said, “I think it’s fair to say the answer is no.”

“He doesn’t have that kind of money,” he said.

US District Judge Richard Stearns, who presided in Cadden’s case, said Wednesday that he would address the motion for restitution after Singal filed a written response.

In the meantime, Stearns ordered Cadden to forfeit assets worth more than $7.5 million, but denied the prosecutors’ request that Cadden’s wife, Lisa, hand over $5.65 million she had been paid in dividends from stock she owned in the company.

“The government argues that because of the spousal relationship, Barry Cadden had the ‘indirect’ benefit of his wife’s earnings from NECC,” Stearns wrote. “While this is most likely true, the law has long since abandoned the ancient common law doctrine of coverture, under which the legal rights and property of a married woman were subsumed to those of her husband.”

Stearns noted that Lisa Cadden was not charged with any crimes.

The government is seeking restitution as it prosecutes Glenn Adam Chin, the pharmacy’s former supervisor, who is on trial in connection with 25 of the deaths.

Chin is charged with second-degree murder for overseeing the preparation of the medicine. Chin’s lawyers have blamed Cadden for the crisis, describing the former owner as a greedy, demanding boss who ordered his pharmacists to prioritize production over safety.

The pharmacy produced epidural steroids in a so-called clean room, where such drugs are made. But a federal investigation found the room was filthy and medicine had not been properly tested, prosecutors said. To conceal the unsafe practices, pharmacy technicians mislabeled drugs to indicate they were properly sterilized and tested.

In the summer of 2012, dozens of people fell ill, complaining of pounding headaches, excruciating neck pain, and other symptoms. Doctors were befuddled, with many treating patients for bacterial infections when the patients were actually suffering from fungal meningitis they contracted after they were injected with the mold-tainted medicine.

Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com.