By Brendan Pierson
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A New York doctor was convicted on Thursday of accepting thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks from Insys Therapeutics Inc in exchange for prescribing his patients an addictive fentanyl spray the drug manufacturer produced.
Gordon Freedman was the fourth medical practitioner to face trial on charges stemming from what prosecutors say was a wide-ranging bribery scheme orchestrated by the now-bankrupt drugmaker that helped fuel the U.S. opioid epidemic.
A federal jury in Manhattan found Freedman guilty of conspiring to violate the Anti-Kickback Statute and conspiring to commit honest services wire fraud, prosecutors said.
“This is a very sad day for a doctor who spent his entire career caring for people suffering with terrible and debilitating pain,” said Samuel Braverman, a lawyer for Freedman.
Prosecutors allege that Chandler, Arizona-based Insys bribed doctors by retaining them to act as speakers at sham events ostensibly meant to educate clinicians about its fentanyl spray, Subsys.
Fentanyl is up to 100 times stronger than morphine. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved Subsys for use in treating cancer pain, doctors who took bribes often prescribed it to non-cancer patients, prosecutors said.
Freedman was one of Insys’ paid speakers, earning $308,600 from 2012 to 2015, money he received in exchange for writing Subsys prescriptions, prosecutors said.
Freedman denied wrongdoing. Braverman said during his opening statement at trial that every prescription Freedman wrote was needed by his patients.
The doctor was among five in New York indicted in March 2018 on charges that they accepted kickbacks from Insys. The other four have pleaded guilty.
Insys filed for bankruptcy in June days after striking a $225 million settlement with the U.S. Justice Department in which a subsidiary pleaded guilty to fraud.
Several former Insys executives and employees have also faced charges, including John Kapoor, Insys’s founder and onetime chairman.
A federal jury in Boston in May found Kapoor and four other ex-executives guilty of racketeering conspiracy. A federal judge last month overturned part of that verdict though sustained the remainder of the verdict and declined to grant them a new trial.
Freedman faces a separate indictment charging him with over-prescribing opioids to a patient who died in 2017 of a fentanyl overdose. He has pleaded not guilty.
(Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York and Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Noeleen Walder, Alistair Bell and Marguerita Choy)