Fourteen people have been indicted over their links to a deadly meningitis outbreak – including two Central Floridians.
New England Compounding Pharmacy Inc. was blamed for the 2012 outbreak that sickened 678 people and killed 64, including 25 infections and three deaths in Florida. The charges include racketeering, conspiracy and second degree murder.
Winter Park residents and pharmacy owners Carla and Doug Conigliaro are among the 14 former owners or employees of a Massachusetts pharmacy charged Wednesday by federal prosecutors in Boston.
They face multiple charges and a possible 10-year jail sentence.
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz called it the biggest criminal case ever brought in the U.S. over contaminated medicine. She leveled allegations that said mold and bacteria were in the air and on workers' gloved fingertips. Pharmacists used expired ingredients, didn't properly sterilize them and failed to test drugs for purity before sending them to hospitals and pain clinics. Employees falsified logs to make it look as if the so-called clean rooms had been disinfected.
Barry Cadden, a co-founder of the now-closed New England Compounding Center of Framingham, and Glenn Adam Chin, a supervisory pharmacist, were slapped with the most serious charges, accused in the racketeering indictment of causing the deaths of 25 patients in seven states by acting with "wanton and willful disregard" of the risks.
The other defendants were charged with such crimes as fraud and interstate sale of adulterated drugs. Ortiz said NECC was "filthy" and failed to comply with even basic health standards, and employees knew it.
"Production and profit were prioritized over safety," she said.
More than 750 people in 20 states fell ill — about half of them with a rare fungal form of meningitis, the rest with joint or spinal infections — after getting steroid injections, mostly for back pain. Sixty-four died.
Cadden's lawyer, Bruce Singal, complained that prosecutors are trying to turn a "tragic accident" into a federal crime.
"Not every accident, and not every tragedy, are caused by criminal conduct," Singal said in a statement.
After the outbreak came to light, regulators found a host of potential sources of ontamination at the pharmacy, including standing water, mold and dirty equipment. The business filed for bankruptcy after it was bombarded with hundreds of lawsuits from victims or their families.
In reaction, Congress last year increased federal oversight of so-called compounding pharmacies like NECC, which custom-mix medications in bulk and supply them directly to hospitals and doctors.