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Victims’ lawyer: Drug-diluting pharmacist set to be released

A former Missouri pharmacist who pleaded guilty in a scheme to dilute tens of thousands of prescriptions for seriously ill patients to boost profits is being released from prison early because of the coronavirus, according to an attorney for the victims.

Michael Ketchmark, an attorney whose office was involved in more than 275 wrongful death lawsuits against Robert Courtney, called on officials to reverse their decision, The Kansas City Star reported Tuesday.

Robert Courtney, a 67-year-old former pharmacist in Kansas City, was sentenced to 30 years in prison in December 2002 and projected to be released in May 2027. But Ketchmark told the newspaper he was informed that Courtney could be released as early as this week to a halfway house and then to home confinement.

Courtney’s release was part of a review by the U.S. Department of Justice in response to the pandemic.

“I think it’s one thing as a society to show compassion to certain nonviolent criminals who are at risk of catching COVID, but it is horribly misplaced to allow Robert Courtney out of prison. He admitted to diluting over 98,000 prescription drugs,” Ketchmark said. “He is a vicious monster who belongs in jail until the very last day of his sentence.”

Don Ledford, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, told The Associated Press that the office has received no information and has opposed Courtney’s separate efforts to be released early. He referred questions to the Bureau of Prisons.

The agency said in an email that it doesn’t discuss release plans for specific inmates because of safety and security reasons. The agency noted that it was asked this spring “to immediately maximize appropriate transfers to home confinement of all appropriate inmates held at facilities with increased infections.”

Jeremy Gordon, who is representing Courtney, declined through someone who works in his office to comment. Kurt Benecke, another attorney for Courtney, didn’t immediately return a phone message from the AP.

During an investigation that began in mid-2001, Courtney admitted to diluting 72 different medications over nearly a decade. Most were cancer treatment drugs, but others could have been used to treat AIDS, multiple sclerosis, arthritis and other diseases. Authorities estimated his scheme could have touched 4,200 patients.

Courtney’s insurance company agreed to pay $35 million to victims, and two pharmaceutical makers paid $71 million in settlements.

After he was denied a motion for a sentence reduction in April, Courtney filed another motion this month asking for compassionate release from the federal prison in Colorado, citing his age, health concerns and the COVID-19 pandemic. Courtney has suffered from hypertension, a stroke, three heart attacks, cancer and internal bleeding while in prison, according to the motion.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas posted on social media Monday that it was “sad how humane we are only to some,” saying Courtney misled thousands of patients and profited, while thousands of others continue to serve sentences for drug offenses.


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