Pharmacist tied to U.S. meningitis outbreak gets eight years in prison

Former New England Compounding Center supervisory pharmacist Glenn Chin enters the federal court in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Nate Raymond/Files (Reuters)

By Nate Raymond

BOSTON (Reuters) - A Massachusetts pharmacist was sentenced on Wednesday to eight years in prison after being convicted on racketeering and fraud charges stemming from his role in a 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak that killed 76 people and sickened hundreds more.

Glenn Chin, the former supervisory pharmacist at New England Compounding Center, was convicted by a federal jury in Boston in October but was cleared of second-degree murder charges, which would have exposed him to a maximum prison sentence of life.

Prosecutors had asked U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns to sentence Chin, 49, to 35 years in prison for overseeing the dispensing of substandard drugs made in filthy conditions at the now-defunct Framingham, Massachusetts-based NECC.

Prosecutors said those drugs included mold-tainted steroids produced at NECC that were then injected into patients, harming at least 793 people in 20 different states.

Stearns said the outbreak pushed families to the breaking point and caused many to lose faith in the medical system and regulators who were "derelict" in their oversight of compounding pharmacies like NECC that make custom drugs.

"The common thread that runs through this entire proceeding is the word tragedy," he said.

But Stearns said he could not allow personal feelings to interfere with reaching a fair sentence for Chin, who received a year less than the nine-year prison term the judge imposed in June on NECC's co-founder and former president, Barry Cadden.

Prosecutors said that Chin, while supervising the so-called clean rooms in which NECC's drugs were made, directed staff to ship untested drugs, use expired ingredients, falsify cleaning logs and ignore mold and bacteria.

Mary Beth Krakowski, an Indiana nurse whose aunt Alice Machowiak died after being injected with the tainted steroids, in court said Chin should have acted to stop the contaminated drugs from being distributed but put his personal gain over patients' welfare.

"You could have been the unsung hero saving peoples' lives," she said.

Chin wept as he apologised to the victims. Had he known the drugs were tainted, he would not have sent them out, Chin said.

"This should never have happened," he said.

A separate jury in March found Cadden guilty of racketeering and fraud but similarly cleared him of second-degree murder over the deaths of 25 people.

Beyond Chin and Cadden, charges were filed in 2014 against 12 other people associated with NECC. Three have pleaded guilty. A trial for the remaining nine defendants is scheduled for October.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Sandra Maler and James Dalgleish)