BOSTON, Mass. – The founder of an Arizona pharmaceutical company arrived at federal court in Boston on Thursday to be sentenced for orchestrating a bribery and kickback scheme that prosecutors said helped fuel the opioid crisis.
John Kapoor, the 76-year-old former chairman of Insys Therapeutics, was found guilty of racketeering conspiracy last May after a trial that lasted 10 weeks and led to 15 days of jury deliberation. Prosecutors are requesting a sentence of 15 years in prison, while Kapoor’s attorneys say he deserves no more than a year and a day.
Kapoor and others were accused of paying millions of dollars in bribes to doctors across the nation to prescribe the company’s highly addictive oral fentanyl spray, known as Subsys. They were also accused of misleading insurers to get payment approved for the drug, which is meant to treat cancer patients in severe pain and can cost as much as $19,000 a month.
In recent court documents, prosecutors characterized Kapoor as the “fulcrum” of the scheme, saying he “did not hesitate to use the authority of his financial position to dictate the criminal strategies employed by Insys.”
“It was, in almost every way, Kapoor’s crime,” they wrote.
Kapoor's lawyers argue that the bribery scheme was concocted by other executives at the company. In a court filing, they said their client has been portrayed as a “caricature” of a mob boss when he’s really an “immigrant success story.” They say the India-born exec developed Subsys after seeing his wife suffer and die from breast cancer.
During his trial, jurors heard from former employees who testified that Insys made a habit of hiring attractive women as representatives to boost sales of the drug. One former sales representative testified that a regional sales manager once gave a lap dance at a Chicago nightclub to a doctor Insys was pushing to write more prescriptions.
Jurors also were shown a rap video in which Insys employees danced and rapped around a person dressed as a giant bottle of the fentanyl spray. Prosecutors said the video was shown at a national sales meeting in 2015 and was intended to motivate representatives to push Subsys to doctors.
The case was considered the first that sought to hold an opioid maker criminally liable for the drug crisis, which has claimed nearly 400,000 lives over the last two decades. At least two others have since faced criminal charges, but prominent companies including Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, have only faced suits that carry no threat of prison time.
After the trial, the company reached a $225 million settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice to end its criminal and civil probes.
Insys has since filed for bankruptcy protection, and it’s not clear whether the company will fully pay what’s owed. The company has been approved to sell off Subsys and its other drugs for about $30 million, but it maintains its assets, all told, are worth only $175 million.
Along with Kapoor, four others from Insys also were convicted last year, while two pleaded guilty and testified against their former colleagues. Alec Burlakoff, a former vice president of sales who pleaded guilty in 2018, also is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday in Boston.
Others in the case have been dealt sentences ranging from a year and a day to nearly three years in prison.