BOSTON (Reuters) – A co-owner and four ex-employees of a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy were convicted on Thursday of committing frauds and other illegal activities that helped boost their business before a deadly 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak linked to drugs it made.
Meningitis is an acute inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, known collectively as the meninges. The most common symptoms are fever, headache, and neck stiffness. Other symptoms include confusion or altered consciousness, vomiting, and an inability to tolerate light or loud noises.
Young children often exhibit only nonspecific symptoms, such as irritability, drowsiness, or poor feeding. If a rash is present, it may indicate a particular cause of meningitis; for instance, meningitis caused by meningococcal bacteria may be accompanied by a characteristic rash.
The inflammation may be caused by infection with viruses, bacteria, or other microorganisms, and less commonly by certain drugs. Meningitis can be life-threatening because of the inflammation's proximity to the brain and spinal cord; therefore, the condition is classified as a medical emergency. A lumbar puncture – in which a needle is inserted into the spinal canal to collect a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), can diagnose or exclude meningitis
The verdict by a federal jury in Boston came in the last criminal trial involving former executives and employees of the New England Compounding Center, which produced mold-tainted steroids that prosecutors said sickened hundreds of people and killed 76.
The jury found pharmacists Gene Svirskiy and Christopher Leary guilty on charges of racketeering and mail fraud related to what prosecutors said was a scheme to mislead NECC's hospital customers about the quality of the drugs it produced.
The jury also found NECC co-owner Gregory Conigliaro and Sharon Carter, its former director of operations, guilty of conspiring to defraud the US Food and Drug Administration regarding how NECC operated before the outbreak. Jurors cleared pharmacist Alla Stepanets of racketeering conspiracy but convicted her on misdemeanor charges that she helped fill prescriptions for drugs using fake patient names, including "Wonder Woman," "Donald Trump" and "Betty Ford."
The jury acquitted a sixth former NECC pharmacist, Joseph Evanosky, of racketeering and mail fraud charges. Mark Pearlstein, his lawyer, welcomed the acquittal but said he was sad that his co-defendants were convicted. "He was an innocent man who should never have been charged," Pearlstein said.
Lawyers for the other defendants either declined comment or could not immediately be reached for comment. The six were among 14 people indicted in 2014 after mold-tainted steroids made by Framingham, Massachusetts-based NECC caused a fungal meningitis outbreak in 2012 that sickened 793 people in 20 states, prosecutors said.