Big Pharma Exec Sentenced to 5.5 Years in Prison for Role in Opioid Crisis

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John Kapoor, the billionaire founder of the pharmaceutical company Insys Therapeutics, has been sentenced to 5-and-a-half years in prison for orchestrating a criminal scheme of bribes and kickbacks to physicians who prescribed large amounts of a fentanyl spray to patients who didn't need the deadly painkiller.

John Kapoor, the billionaire founder of the pharmaceutical company Insys Therapeutics, has been sentenced to 5-and-a-half years in prison for orchestrating a criminal scheme of bribes and kickbacks to physicians who prescribed large amounts of a fentanyl spray to patients who didn’t need the deadly painkiller.

Kapoor’s 66-month sentence, handed down Thursday in Boston federal court by U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs, is the lengthiest prison term imposed on seven former Insys executives sentenced in the landmark case over the past two weeks.

Yahoo reports: In other sentencings in recent days, Insys’ former vice president Michael Gurry and national director of sales Richard Simon each received 33 months in prison for their involvement in the scheme; former Insys CEO Michael Babich was sentenced to 30 months; the company’s regional sales director Joseph Rowan to 27 months; and Sunrise Lee, former regional sales director, to one year and a day in prison. 

Former Vice President of Sales Alec Burlakoff was sentenced to 26 months Thursday. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathaniel Yeager, who sought 15 years in prison, called Kapoor – former chairman of the company’s board – the “linchpin” of the criminal scheme and the only defendant who could not have been replaced by another conspirator. 

“He was the principal leader, who personally approved, and thereafter enforced, the corrupt strategies employed throughout the conspiracy,” Yeager said. “This crime would not have happened, could not have happened, without John Kapoor. It was, in almost every way, Kapoor’s crime.”

In addition to prison, Kapoor, 76, was sentenced to three years of supervised release and must pay a $250,000 fine.

John Kapoor and four other executives were convicted last May of a criminal conspiracy to bribe doctors to prescribe a highly addictive fentanyl spray to patients who didn’t need it.

One of the defendants allegedly gave a lap dance to a doctor at a company event in order to persuade him to prescribe the drug.

Legal experts say the sentencing should be a warning to other drug company executives who have engaged in deceptive marketing practices and other schemes to push opioids.

The historic case, which included indictments going back to 2016, centered on a fentanyl-based pain medication called Subsys, a powerful, highly addictive and potentially dangerous narcotic intended to treat patients with cancer suffering from intense pain. Through an elaborate scheme, prosecutors said the Arizona-based company bribed doctors to prescribe the drug to their patients and tricked health insurance companies about their conditions. 

Burroughs said it was unclear to her whether Kapoor had more culpability than other top figures at Insys. She said she approached his sentence the same as Babich and Burlakoff, but they both got shorter sentences for pleading guilty before the trial.

“I cannot ignore the conduct in this case and all the harm it caused people,” Burroughs said. “I’ve done my level best to be fair to everyone in this case.”

Prosecutors asked that Kapoor be taken into custody immediately after the hearing, citing his vast connections overseas. But Burroughs denied that request. Kapoor is set to report to prison March 5. His attorneys requested a facility near Tuscon, Arizona. 

Kapoor exited the back of the courthouse and declined to comment. 

His attorney, Beth Wilkinson, acknowledged the patients’ pain, but said the government misrepresented the “real John Kapoor,” who helped others with other drugs and charity work aimed at cancer.

“Judge him on his entire life,” she said, recounting a difficult upbringing in India, where Kapoor was born and raised. “The 70 years of history that Mr. Kapoor has shows no sign of greed. He wanted to do something that would help other people.”

U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling, addressing reporters outside, said the sentences of Kapoor and other Insys executives were not just aimed at punishing the defendants but were intended to deter others from committing the same acts.

“It’s about making the next pharma company think twice about its sales tactics and think hard about its basic responsibility as a corporate entity and about not victimizing the public so it can make more money,” Lelling said. 

He said he respected the court’s decision, but thinks Kapoor’s prison term should have been longer and worries he could flee before reporting to prison. 

Baxter Dmitry
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Baxter Dmitry is a writer at The People's Voice. He covers politics, business and entertainment. Speaking truth to power since he learned to talk, Baxter has travelled in over 80 countries and won arguments in every single one. Live without fear.