U.S. Makes First Arrest Tied to Deadly Meningitis Outbreak

Sep 04, 2014 4:57 pm ET

(Updates with lawyer’s comment in ninth paragraph.)

Sept. 4 (Bloomberg) -- A pharmacist tied to a 2012 outbreak of meningitis in the U.S. was detained as he sought to board a flight from Boston to Hong Kong in the first arrest stemming from an epidemic that killed 64 people and infected hundreds.

Glenn Chin, 46, a former supervisor at New England Compounding Center, the now-bankrupt pharmaceutical company at the heart of the outbreak, was held today at Logan International Airport and charged with one count of mail fraud, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston said in a statement.

“The government did exactly what it should have done -- holding him and keeping him held accountable,” Kim Dougherty, a lawyer representing more than 100 victims, said after Chin appeared in Boston federal court today. “The contamination happened on his watch.”

The pharmacy’s tainted drugs, including a pain-killing steroid administered by spinal injection, caused 751 meningitis cases in 20 states, the U.S. said. The outbreak led to calls by Congress for greater federal oversight of so-called compounding pharmacies that provide health-care companies with tailored drug mixtures that aren’t commercially available.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Jennifer Boal released Chin on home confinement and a $50,000 unsecured bond, and scheduled a probable cause hearing for Sept. 11. He faces as long as 20 years in prison and a fine of at least $250,000, the U.S. said.

Supervising Pharmacist

Chin, who was a supervising pharmacist at the Framingham, Massachusetts-based company, was involved in compounding a batch of contaminated medicine that was later injected into hundreds of patients of one of its customers, Michigan Pain Specialists, the U.S. said.

The batch that Chin signed off on resulted in 217 infections and 15 deaths, the authorities said. He’s named in several of the lawsuits filed against New England Compounding in Boston federal court.

The company, formally known as New England Compounding Pharmacy Inc., suspended operations and filed for bankruptcy protection in December 2012 as a result of lawsuits by victims and families. The company and its insurers last month won court approval of a settlement of almost $100 million.

‘Absolutely Heartbroken’

Chin, who worked at the company starting in 2004, is now a “stay-at-home dad” who is “absolutely heartbroken about what happened” at New England Compounding, his lawyer, Paul Shaw, said after today’s hearing.

“I’ve never been informed he’s a target,” Shaw said.

Chin was attempting to travel to a wedding in Hong Kong and held round-trip tickets for himself, his wife, his two children and his mother at the time of his arrest, said Shaw, of Verrill Dana LLP in Boston. Chin’s family continued without him after he was detained, Shaw said.

Chin was detained because he was about to board an international flight, and the criminal investigation into the outbreak is continuing, the U.S. said. It’s the first arrest tied to the case, Christina Sterling, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston, said in an e-mail.

Emotional Stress

Chin has lost 20 pounds as a result of emotional stress over the outbreak and had been cooperating with the investigation, Shaw said. Chin wasn’t contacted by authorities regarding his planned trip, the lawyer said.

New England Compounding’s facilities were in “deplorable” physical condition when they were probed by state and federal health investigators after the outbreak, according to complaints against the company. Authorities found contaminated vials of medicine, dirty surfaces and equipment in sterile “clean rooms” where medicine was prepared, incorrect room temperatures, leaky boilers and air contaminants, victims said in court papers.

Chin’s duties included signing off on the sterility of clean rooms, said Dougherty, the plaintiffs lawyer in the related civil cases.

Shortly before New England Compounding filed its Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition, the company surrendered its Massachusetts pharmacy license, recalled all its products and fired most employees, court records show.