Justia Drugs & Biotech Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in White Collar Crime
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Elmer owned and operated multiple healthcare-related companies including Pharmakon, a compounding pharmacy that mixes and distributes drugs—including potent opioids like morphine and fentanyl—to hospitals across the U.S.. Pharmakon conducted its own internal potency testing and contracted with a third party to perform additional testing to evaluate whether its compounded drugs had too little of the active ingredient (under-potent) or too much (over-potent). In 2014-2016, testing showed 134 instances of under- or over-potent drugs being distributed to customers. Elmer knew the drugs were dangerous. Rather than halting manufacturing or recalling past shipments, sales continued and led to the near-death of an infant. Elmer and Pharmakon lied to the FDA.Elmer was charged with conspiracy to defraud the FDA (18 U.S.C. 371); introducing adulterated drugs into interstate commerce (21 U.S.C. 331(a), 333(a)(1) & 351); and adulterating drugs being held for sale in interstate commerce (21 U.S.C. 331(k), 331(a)(1) & 351). Pharmakon employees, FDA inspectors, and Community Health Network medical staff testified that Elmer was aware of and directed the efforts to conceal out-of-specification test results from the FDA. The district court sentenced Elmer to 33 months’ imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to rulings related to the evidence admitted at trial and Elmer’s sentence. The evidence before the jury overwhelmingly proved Elmer’s guilt. The sentence was more than reasonable given the gravity of Elmer’s crimes. View "United States v. Elmer" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's conviction of violating federal laws by conspiring to receive, and of receiving, kickbacks from the pharmaceutical company Insys in exchange for prescribing its synthetic opioid, Subsys, holding that there was no merit to Defendant's arguments on appeal.Specifically, the First Circuit held (1) the government introduced sufficient evidence to prove that Defendant participated in a conspiracy to receive kickbacks or to prove that he accepted those kickbacks in exchange for prescribing Subsys; (2) Defendant's conduct fell outside the Anti-Kickback Statute's safe harbor provision; and (3) the district court did not err in failing to instruct the jury about that same safe harbor provision. View "United States v. Clough" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed both of Defendant's federal racketeering-related convictions but vacated and remanded the prison sentence, forfeiture order, and restitution order, holding that the district court erred in several respects.Defendant was convicted of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, federal mail fraud, and violating the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), 21 U.S.C. 331(a), 333(a). The district court sentenced Defendant to ninety-six months' imprisonment, issued a forfeiture order in the amount of $175,000, and ordered restitution. On appeal, Defendant challenged his convictions for racketeering and racketeering conspiracy and his sentence. The First Circuit remanded the case, holding (1) the convictions were supported by sufficient evidence; (2) the district court erred in its reasoning declining to apply certain enhancements; (3) neither of the two reasons the district court gave for limiting the forfeiture order was sustainable; and (4) the district court too narrowly construed who counts as a "victim" under the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act. View "United States v. Chin" on Justia Law

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Health benefit plans sued GSK, the manufacturer of the prescription drug Avandia, under state consumer-protection laws and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. ch. 96 (RICO), based on GSK’s marketing of Avandia as having benefits to justify its price, which was higher than the price of other drugs used to treat type-2 diabetes. The district court granted GSK summary judgment, finding that the state-law consumer-protection claims were preempted by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), 21 U.S.C. ch. 9; the Plans had failed to identify a sufficient “enterprise” for purposes of RICO; and the Plans’ arguments related to GSK’s alleged attempts to market Avandia as providing cardiovascular “benefits” were “belated.” The Third Circuit reversed, applying the Supreme Court’s 2019 "Merck" decision. The state-law consumer-protection claims are not preempted by the FDCA. The Plans should have been given the opportunity to seek discovery before summary judgment on the RICO claims. Further, from the inception of this litigation, the Plans’ claims have centered on GSK’s marketing of Avandia as providing cardiovascular benefits as compared to other forms of treatment, so the district court’s refusal to consider the Plans’ “benefits” arguments was in error because those arguments were timely raised. View "In re: Avandia Marketing, Sales and Products Liability Litigation" on Justia Law

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In the late 1990s, people who had taken the prescription diet-drug combination Fen-Phen began suing Wyeth, claiming that the drugs caused valvular heart disease. A 2000 settlement included creation of the Fen-Phen Settlement Trust to compensate class members who had sustained heart damage. Claims required medical evidence. Attorneys who represented certain claimants retained Tai, a board-certified Level 2-qualified cardiologist, to read tests and prepare reports. Tai read 12,000 tests and asserted that he was owed $2 million dollars for his services. Tai later acknowledged that in about 10% of the cases, he dictated reports consistent with the technicians’ reports despite knowing that the measurements were wrong, and that he had his technician and office manager review about 1,000 of the tests because he did not have enough time to do the work. A review of the forms Tai submitted found that, in a substantial number of cases, the measurements were clearly incorrect and were actually inconsistent with a human adult heart. Tai was convicted of mail and wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1341 and 1343, was sentenced to 72 months’ imprisonment, and was ordered to pay restitution of $4,579,663 and a fine of $15,000. The Third Circuit rejected arguments that the court erred by implicitly shifting the burden of proof in its “willful blindness” jury instruction and applying upward adjustments under the advisory Sentencing Guidelines for abuse of a position of trust and use of a special skill, but remanded for factual findings concerning whether Tai supervised a criminally culpable subordinate, as required for an aggravated role enhancement. View "United States v. Tai" on Justia Law

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Volkman, an M.D. and a Ph.D. in pharmacology from University of Chicago, was board-certified in emergency medicine and a “diplomat” of the American Academy of Pain Management. Following lawsuits, he had no malpractice insurance and no job. Hired by Tri-State, a cash-only clinic with 18-20 patients per day, he was paid $5,000 to $5,500 per week. After a few months, pharmacies refused to fill his prescriptions, citing improper dosing. Volkman opened a dispensary in the clinic. The Ohio Board of Pharmacy issued a license, although a Glock was found in the safe where the drugs were stored. Follow-up inspections disclosed poorly maintained dispensary logs; that no licensed physician or pharmacist oversaw the actual dispensing process; and lax security of the drug safe. Patients returned unmarked and intermixed medication. The dispensary did a heavy business in oxycodone. A federal investigation revealed a chaotic environment. Cup filled with urine were scattered on the floor. The clinic lacked essential equipment. Pills were strewn throughout the premises. Months later, the owners fired Volkman, so he opened his own shop. Twelve of Volkman’s patients died. Volkman and the Tri-State owners were charged with conspiring to unlawfully distribute a controlled substance, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1); maintaining a drug-involved premises, 21 U.S.C. 856(a)(1); unlawful distribution of a controlled substance leading to death, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C), and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime, 18 U.S.C. 24(c)(1) and (2). The owners accepted plea agreements and testified against Volkman, leading to his conviction on most counts, and a sentence of four consecutive terms of life imprisonment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Volkman" on Justia Law

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Defendants, two of three lawyers who represented several hundred Kentucky clients in a mass-tort action against the manufacturer of the defective diet drug "fen-phen," settled the case for $200 million, which entitled them under their retainer agreements to approximately $22 million each in attorney fees. By visiting clients and obtaining their signatures on "confidential settlements," for lesser amounts, the two actually disbursed slightly more than $45 million, less than 23 percent of the total settlement. The lawyers kept the remainder for themselves and associated counsel, transferring much of it from the escrow account to various other accounts, including out-of-state accounts. The scheme was discovered; the lawyers were disbarred and convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1343, 1349. One was sentenced to 240 months, the other to 300 months. They were ordered to pay more than $127 million in restitution. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting a variety of challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence and trial procedures. View "United States v. Cunningham" on Justia Law

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Defendant was the pharmacy director of a medical center and had influence over decisions concerning which drugs to stock. Levato was the local business manager of a pharmaceutical company. Levato agreed to pay defendant $18,000 not to switch away from his company's drug, and made computer entries recording nine nonexistent speeches given by defendant for the pharmaceutical company; defendant later received another $14,000 for more fictitious speeches. After investigation by an FDA agent, Levato and defendant were indicted. Levato plead guilty and testified against defendant. Defendant was convicted of solicitation and receipt of kickbacks and sentenced to 22 months in prison. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Memoranda prepared by the Department of Health and Human Services, discovered by the prosecution after trial, did not constitute exculpatory material withheld by the prosecution. The court noted that the documents would have strengthened the prosecution case. View "United States v. Muoghalu" on Justia Law

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Defendant was found guilty of two federal offenses: one count of aiding and abetting a violation of the so-called Medicare anti-kickback statute, in violation of 42 U.S.C. 1320a-7b(b)(2) and 18 U.S.C. 2, and one count of aiding and abetting the falsification of a document, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1519 and 2. Defendant raised several claims on appeal. The court held that the district court did not err in admitting testimony concerning statements made by defendant's wife during her interview with the FBI; in admitting evidence under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) that defendant stole funds from previous employers in the healthcare industry; in denying defendant's motion to dismiss count one of the second superseding indictment, which charged a violation of the anti-kickback statute; by refusing to hold an evidentiary hearing on defendant's motion to suppress statements and to declare his proffer agreement unenforceable; and by granting in part the spouse's attorneys' motion to quash a subpoena requiring one of the representatives to produce his entire file regarding the representation of the spouse who was now deceased. The court also held that the district court's jury instructions regarding count one were not erroneous. The court held, however, that the district court erred in calculating the amount of loss under Guidelines 2B4.1 when it used the loss to the victims, rather than the benefit to defendant, as the measure of loss. Therefore, the court concluded that there was procedural error and defendant's sentence was vacated. The court finally vacated the restitution order and remanded for further proceedings. The court rejected defendant's remaining claims. View "United States v. Yielding" on Justia Law