Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 26, 2013

Prosecutor: Tainted steroids probe 'very active'

BY BRIAN McGILLIVARY bmcgillivary@record-eagle.com and ED WHITE Associated Press
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Theresa Hall never realized there were ongoing criminal investigations of a Massachusetts-based company that manufactured tainted steroid injections until she received a letter from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Hall, a Benzie County resident who was infected with meningitis from the injections along with hundreds of others, was pleased to learn a criminal inquiry is ongoing.

“That’s awesome,” said Hall, who remains disabled by the disease she contracted after receiving injections for a pinched nerve. “The more I thought about it I realized there was a crime committed. These people knew the medicine wasn’t any good and I’m angry about that.”

The FBI recently asked anyone who received one of the tainted injections to fill out a questionnaire by Nov. 30, detailing their illnesses. On Monday, a Massachusetts federal prosecutor called the criminal probe “very active” while in Detroit to announce a partnership with authorities in Michigan, one of the hardest-hit states.

Carmen Ortiz, the U.S. attorney in Boston, didn’t set a deadline for a federal grand jury probe, saying only that investigators are working diligently in Massachusetts, where New England Compounding Center made the steroid injections.

Since tainted drugs were discovered last year, 751 people in 20 states, including 264 in Michigan, have developed fungal meningitis or other infections. Sixty-four people have died, including 22 Michigan residents. Four lived in northwest Michigan and two of those in Grand Traverse County.

Traverse City-based Neuromuscular and Rehabilitation Associates of Northern Michigan was one of four clinics in the state to use the tainted steroids.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said he plans to share any evidence from a separate state probe with federal officials. A state grand jury formed by Schuette soon will take a break when its six-month term expires, although it could be restarted again. He had no charges to announce but vowed to cooperate with the more significant and broader federal investigation.

The Associated Press sent a message seeking comment to a spokesman for attorneys representing company officials. NECC gave up its license and filed for bankruptcy protection after it was flooded with hundreds of lawsuits from victims.

Attorneys Mark Dancer and Daniel Meyers represent 72 patients of Neuromuscular Rehabilitation Associates who have brought civil action in federal court against NECC. Dancer said there is “a lot of money in different pockets” available for the victims regardless of the bankruptcy filing by NECC.

Whatever Schuette does or doesn’t do in his criminal probe will have little impact on the civil action but it may bring some psychological relief to his clients, Dancer said.

”If you get poison injected into you and it should or could have been prevented, you want the people responsible punished,” Dancer said.

Hall said she’s still suffering more than a year after the infection was first diagnosed.

”The infection’s not gone, it’s dormant,” she said. “It’s going to be an ongoing thing and nobody can say if I’ll ever get over it.”