Pharmacy boss blamed for meningitis outbreak gets 9 years

The co-owner of a pharmacy responsible for the deaths of 76 people was sentenced Monday to nine years in prison after he tearfully apologized to victims who described watching their loved ones die or enduring excruciating physical pain from a 2012 nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak caused by contaminated steroids.

"I am so sorry for your extraordinary losses," Barry Cadden said, wiping his eyes. "I am sorry for the whole range of suffering that resulted from my company's drugs."

The sentence was far less than more than a dozen victims asked for while making emotional victim impact statements to U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns. Many asked the judge to send the 50-year-old Cadden to prison for the rest of his life.

"His actions have caused my life to be shattered and my family so much pain," said Rachelle Shuff, of Elkhart, Indiana, who received steroid shots for back pain while trying to recover from serious injuries she received in a car accident.

Shuff said she nearly died after contracting meningitis from the contaminated steroids five years ago. Since then, she continues to suffer from severe, chronic pain and an assortment of other symptoms, including vomiting, nosebleeds, frequent falls and memory loss.

"I will die imprisoned in my body," she said.

During trial, prosecutors said Cadden, the co-owner and president of the now-closed New England Compounding Center in Framingham, ran the company in an "extraordinarily dangerous" way, sending out the steroids when he knew there was mold present in the room where the steroids were made and skirting industry standards on cleanliness and sterility to step up production and make more profit.

"Make no mistake about it — what Barry Cadden did was evil, and he should be punished accordingly," said Assistant U.S. Attorney George Varghese, urging the judge to sentence Cadden to 35 years in prison.

Cadden's lawyer, Bruce Singal, asked for a three-year sentence and said prosecutors were trying to punish Cadden for murder, a charge that was rejected by the jury.

Jurors acquitted Cadden of 25 second-degree murder charges under the federal racketeering law but found him guilty of fraud and conspiracy. Singal said there was no evidence Cadden knowingly shipped contaminated drugs.

Besides the 76 people who died, more than 700 were sickened. Illnesses and deaths in 20 states were traced to the contaminated steroids. Indiana, Michigan and Tennessee were hit hardest. One of those who died was longtime Kentucky judge Eddie C. Lovelace, whose widow, Joyce Lovelace, told her story to Congress.

The judge ordered Cadden to report to federal prison on Aug. 7 to begin serving his term. Cadden will remain free on bond until he reports to prison.

Penny Laperriere, whose husband died after receiving a contaminated steroid shot, said Cadden destroyed her family.

"Who gave him the right to play God?" the Michigan woman said.

She said her husband, Lyn Laperriere, received the shot to try to get relief from his back pain.

The outbreak of fungal meningitis and other infections was traced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to contaminated injections of medical steroids, given mostly to people with back pain.

The CDC put the death toll at 64 as of October 2013. Federal prosecutors said 12 more people have died since then, raising the total to 76.

The scandal prompted increased scrutiny on compounding pharmacies, which differ from ordinary drugstores in that they custom-mix medications and supply them directly to hospitals and doctors. In 2013, in reaction to the outbreak, Congress increased federal oversight of such pharmacies.

Federal prosecutor Amanda Strachan told the jury during the two-month trial that the deaths and illnesses happened because Cadden "decided to put profits before patients."

The pharmacy used expired ingredients and falsified logs to make it look as if the so-called clean rooms had been disinfected, prosecutors said. After the outbreak, regulators found multiple potential sources of contamination, including standing water and mold and bacteria in the air and on workers' gloved fingertips.

Cadden's lawyer pointed the finger at Glenn Chin, a supervisory pharmacist who ran the clean rooms where drugs were made. Chin has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go on trial in September.

The pharmacy filed for bankruptcy after getting hit with hundreds of lawsuits. It and several related companies reached a $200 million settlement with victims and their families.