Thursday, August 18, 2016
Judge Rejects Plea for Outbreak Victims' Impact Statements
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
A federal judge has denied a motion by federal prosecutors to present victims' impact statements at the sentencing hearing of a woman and her husband with ties to the company blamed for a nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak.
In a three-page order issued today, Judge Richard Stearns said that the crimes Carla and Douglas Conigliaro have pleaded guilty to were not related to the operations of the New England Compounding Center, the defunct Framingham, Mass. drug compounding firm blamed for the deadly 2012 outbreak.
"As the government itself conceded, the victims the government has in mind were not victims of any crime for which the defendants have been convicted," the ruling states.
The couple did enter guilty pleas to violations of a federal law governing large withdrawals from bank accounts. They admitted to "structuring" withdrawals to avoid triggering an automatic report to the federal government.
They face sentencing on Nov. 1 before Stearns.
Carla Conigliaro was the majority stockholder in NECC, while her husband headed a related sales company.
Stearns noted that prosecutors already had conceded that neither of them was involved in the "compounding of drugs or the day-to-day operations of NECC."
And as the judge noted under the plea agreement between the Conigliaros and federal prosecutors, the government agreed to make a recommendation that neither of Conigliaros be incarcerated.
"Presenting victims impact statements to the court at sentencing would likely be viewed as an implied effort to persuade the court to reject the government's recommendation and impose a harsher sentence," Stearns wrote.
"That," he continued, "would place the government in the ethically challenged position of implicitly undermining the position it bound itself to advocate in the plea agreement."
Stearns added that use of victims statements in this case would be "a misdirection of anguish and indignation that they (victims) no doubt genuinely feel."
"This is not the forum for impact statements," he concluded.
The 2012 outbreak caused by fungus laden steroids sickened 778 patients across the country, killing 77 of them.