BOSTON (Reuters) - Two pharmacists from Massachusetts were charged with second-degree murder in connection with a deadly 2012 meningitis outbreak that killed at least 64 people and injured about 750, according to an indictment made public on Wednesday.
The 131-count indictment accuses 14 people who either worked or acted as owners of New England Compounding Center (NECC), a specialty pharmacy that went into bankruptcy after the outbreak.
Barry J. Cadden, 48, a pharmacist and part of NECC’s ownership group, and pharmacist Glenn A. Chinn, 46, have been charged with 25 murders in seven states, according to the indictment.
The outbreak was “an unprecedented national tragedy,” Carmen Ortiz, the U.S. Attorney for the district of Massachusetts, said at a news conference. Health officials have said it was the deadliest meningitis outbreak in U.S. history.
Prosecutors said officials at Framingham, Massachusetts-based NECC knowingly shipped contaminated steroids across the country. The drugs typically were injected in patients suffering from back pain.
The pharmacy escaped harsh punishment from health regulators several times in the years leading up to the outbreak, according to hundreds of pages of documents obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request.
NECC, about 20 miles west of Boston, started out as a small family business owned by members of Cadden’s family, along with his brother-in-law, Gregory Conigliaro, 49, a recycling entrepreneur.
Eventually, the operations expanded to bulk sales to hospitals and clinics in nearly 50 states, company records show. During the first 10 months of 2012, NECC generated about $32.4 million in revenue, the indictment said.
The indictment accuses Greg Conigliaro of instructing staff to create 300 fraudulent prescriptions related to an eye anesthetic that didn’t work.
His brother, Doug Conigliaro, 53, and sister-in-law Carla Conigliaro, are accused of criminal contempt in connection with $33 million in transfers to eight different bank accounts after NECC went into bankruptcy. Carla Conigliaro, 51, was NECC’s majority shareholder.
Overall, the charges include racketeering, conspiracy, contempt and mail fraud. The 25 second-degree murder charges against Cadden and Chin fall under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). The charges relate to patients who died in Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
NECC shut down in October 2012 and filed for bankruptcy two months later under a barrage of lawsuits. This month, a trustee overseeing the bankruptcy filed a plan that would set aside at least $135 million to compensate victims and their families.
Additional reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Susan Heavey, Lisa Von Ahn and David Gregorio