Pharmacists Said It Wasn’t Their Job to Question Names on the Prescriptions
BOSTON – Two pharmacists facing potentially lengthy jail terms told a federal judge that it wasn’t their job to question the patently fake names on prescriptions they routinely processed for shipment.
Lawyers for Kathy Chin and Michelle Thomas said their clients, both licensed pharmacists, were only assigned to ensure that the right drugs were being shipped to the correct medical facility.
The two are appealing their May conviction on violations of the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act with intent to defraud or deceive.
While not disputing that prescriptions were processed for the likes of Charlie Cheeto and Filet O Fish, Chin’s lawyer, Joan Griffin, said prosecutors had presented no evidence that the defendants had intended to defraud or deceive anyone.
“There’s no way anyone could think they were legitimate,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Strachan countered, recounting the testimony of an official of the Massachusetts Pharmacy Board, who said during the spring trial that state law required pharmacists to verify that each prescription was being dispensed to a specific patient.
Chin and Thomas were employees of the New England Compounding Center, the long-defunct Massachusetts company blamed for a deadly 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak caused by deadly fungi in drugs that were supposed to be sterile.
But Chin and Thomas were not charged with any role in producing the deadly steroids but rather for routinely clearing drugs for shipment that were prescribed for obviously fake patients.
Griffin and Michael C. Bourbeau, Thomas’ lawyer, insisted their clients weren’t verifying the names of patients but simply verifying the right drugs were being shipped to the right physicians or medical facilities.
U.S. District Judge Richard G. Stearns questioned Strachan about the trial testimony that NECC had a separate verification department that checked the legitimacy of orders before they were sent to Chin and Thomas.
Strachan responded noting that the trial evidence showed the verification unit did not include a licensed pharmacist and state law required that a pharmacist do the verification.
Chin and Thomas, Strachan said, were the ones putting their signatures on NECC’s verification forms.
“The law could not be more clear. There had to be a patient-specific prescription,” she stated.
Stearns, however, questioned whether NECC was operating in a gray area, in which neither state nor federal regulators had clear authority.
Strachan countered by noting the trial testimony of Janet Woodcock, a top Food and Drug Administration official, who said that had the FDA known NECC was massproducing drugs without valid prescriptions, there was no doubt they should have been subject to FDA regulation.
Throughout the session prosecutors and defense attorneys cited prior rulings by Stearns as favoring their opposing positions.
The case is the fourth heard by Stearns stemming from the 2014 grand jury indictment of 14 people connected to NECC. In the most recent ruling Stearns overturned guilty verdicts of Gregory Conigliaro and Sharon Carter. Conigliaro was a vice president and part-owner of the company.
Three of the 14 are currently serving jail terms after convictions on racketeering and mail fraud charges. That includes Glenn Chin, the husband of Kathy Chin, who is serving an eight-year sentence.