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Two men at the center of a 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak that killed 64 people around the U.S. will be released from custody, pending their criminal trials, a federal judge in Boston ruled Thursday.
U.S. Magistrate Jennifer Boal issued an electronic order saying that the U.S. attorney's office had "not met its burden" in requesting the detention of Barry Cadden and Glenn Chin.
Cadden is a co-founder of the now-shuttered New England Compounding Center; Chin was the Framingham-based company's supervisory pharmacist. The judge said she will set conditions for their release Friday.
Cadden and Chin were among 14 people arrested Wednesday in a federal racketeering conspiracy that authorities say is the largest U.S. criminal case ever brought over contaminated medicine.
New England Compounding Center employees are accused of using expired ingredients and failing to follow cleanliness standards, resulting in tainted steroid injections used mostly for back pain. More than 750 people in 20 states fell ill and 64 died.
About half of the victims developed a rare fungal form of meningitis. The rest suffered joint or spinal infections.
In a hearing Thursday, lawyers for Cadden and Chin argued that their clients do not pose a serious risk of fleeing because they have deep roots in Massachusetts and have long been aware of the likelihood of their arrest.
Stephen Weymouth, Chin's lawyer, noted his client had been following a home confinement order after being arrested and charged with a single count of federal mail fraud in September when he attempted to fly to Hong Kong with his family for a wedding. Chin was placed in custody Wednesday after his arrest Wednesday, along with Cadden and others.
Prosecutors countered that the prospect of life in prison, if convicted, could be a strong motivator for both.
"We understand the argument that they've been here forever, that they have homes here," said George Varghese, an assistant U.S. attorney. "But the calculus changes when you face the enormity of offenses that these two men are now facing."
Of the 14 defendants, Cadden and Chin face the most serious charges, including 25 counts each of second-degree murder under federal racketeering law. Others face charges including fraud and interstate sale of adulterated drugs.
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