Billionaire drug executive with Chicago-area ties convicted in opioid bribery scheme

Remigio Civitarese
Mag 3, 2019

The founder of Arizona-based drug company Insys Therapeutics and four other former executives were convicted Wednesday of conspiring to pay doctors bribes and kickbacks to boost sales of the highly addictive opioid spray Subsys.

The arrest of Kapoor (pictured) in 2017 came on the same day President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency.

The company's former national director of sales, Richard M. Simon, regional sales directors, Sunrise Lee and Joseph A. Rowan, and former Vice President of Managed Markets, Michael J. Gurry, were all found guilty in the scheme.

The company's aggressive marketing tactics reportedly also included sales representatives making a rap video to promote the drug.

Nearly 400,000 people have died from overdoses involving prescription or illicit opioids over the past two decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"This is a landmark prosecution that vindicated the public's interest in staunching the flow of opioids into our homes and streets", Massachusetts US Attorney Andrew Lelling said in a statement.

Kapoor, 76, was found guilty of running a wide-ranging scheme to bribe doctors nationwide by retaining them to act as speakers at sham events at restaurants ostensibly meant to educate clinicians about its fentanyl spray, Subsys.

Kapoor and the others were accused of bribing doctors to boost sales of Subsys and misleading insurers in order to get payment approved for the costly drug, which is meant for cancer patients in severe pain.

"Dr. Kapoor is disappointed in the verdict, as are we", Beth Wilkinson, Kapoor's lead attorney, said in a statement.

The charge calls for up to 20 years in prison, but as first-time offenders, Kapoor and the others will likely get only a fraction of that. "Four weeks of jury deliberations confirm that this was far from an open-and-shut case".

The jury heard evidence early in the trial about Lee, an ex-stripper turned Insys regional sales director, who gave a lap dance to a doctor at a Chicago club as part of an effort to push him to prescribe the drug. Lee's lawyer said she will challenge the verdict.

Michael Babich, who resigned as Insys' chief executive in 2015, pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme in January and became a key witness for prosecutors.

Babich told jurors in February that Insys recruited sales representatives who were "easy on the eyes" because the company reasoned that physicians didn't want an "unattractive person to walk in their door".

Kapoor's attorney sought to shift the blame onto the company's former vice president of sales, Alec Burlakoff, who pleaded guilty to the bribe scheme in November.

A number of states have sued the Insys, which also agreed previous year to pay US$150 million to settle a federal investigation into inappropriate sales.

In a statement, Insys said: "The actions of a select few former employees...are not indicative of the hard work conducted by our talented team today".

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