Quality Control Worker Says She Was Afraid Of Pharmacist At Center Of Meningitis Outbreak

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Glenn Chin, the supervisory pharmacist at the now-closed New England Compounding Center, departs federal court after attending the first day of his trial on Sept. 19. (Steven Senne/AP)
Glenn Chin, the supervisory pharmacist at the now-closed New England Compounding Center, departs federal court after attending the first day of his trial on Sept. 19. (Steven Senne/AP)

An expletive is at the center of a federal trial in Boston of a man charged on multiple counts of second-degree murder.

Glenn Chin was the supervising pharmacist at the Framingham-based New England Compounding Center (NECC), a facility linked to a nationwide outbreak of fungal meningitis that led to the deaths of 76 people and sickened hundreds more.

Prosecutors have presented evidence of fraud, falsified records and disregard for the risk of producing contaminated steroid injections. Now, after three weeks of testimony, jurors have been presented with evidence in the form of a single phrase.

Dirty Drugs And Dirty Words

Annette Robinson was Ms. Quality Control at NECC. She was it. And given what happened there, perhaps it was fitting that Robinson had no professional qualifications whatsoever for the job NECC President Barry Cadden hired her to do.

Barry Cadden, president of the New England Compounding Center, followed by members of his legal team, arrive at the federal courthouse in Boston for his sentencing. (Stephan Savoia/AP)
Barry Cadden, president of the New England Compounding Center, was sentenced to nine years in prison for his role in the deadly outbreak. (Stephan Savoia/AP)

Yet, she did do her job.

Robinson conducted environmental monitoring of the laboratory or the so-called "clean room," which witnesses have testified was anything but clean. She sent compounded drugs out for testing.

Small, frail, soft-spoken and trembling as she testified, Robinson was clear: The company didn't wait for test results before shipping the drugs out to customers. She said no one did anything when she reported lab results from the outside testing company that the samples of what NECC was making were not sterile.

"They needed to know," she said, "that these are people's lives we are talking about."

The company also did nothing, she testified, when fungal growths were found in the "clean room" in February and March of 2012 — months before the fungus started showing up in people's brains that summer.

One of Robinson's jobs was to make sure lab technicians read and understood the "Standard Operating Procedures" (SOPs). She said that put her in conflict with head pharmacist Chin, the defendant.

In an email to Chin in 2010, Robinson wrote: "Hi, Mr. Chin." Naming three lab technicians, she said in her memo that the technicians "still haven't read the SOPs. I know you guys are still busy. Any suggestions?" She then added two large smiling emojis.

Back came an email from Chin that read, "F--- off!!!!" — with four exclamation points for emphasis.

For a defendant facing 25 murder charges in front of a jury of mostly women, bullying a subordinate with an f-bomb provided the prosecution with a neat encapsulation of a complex case to something like this: "Chin to Quality Control: F--- Off."

"Were you afraid of him?" asked prosecutor Amanda Strachan. "Yes," Robinson said. "He raised his voice, said vulgar things, told me, 'f--- you.' "

Before she was done Robinson broke down and cried in regret of what she said was her own part in the fraud that contributed to the catastrophe.

Robinson's last blow was to report a meeting with Chin and Cadden that occurred when it was too late, in which Cadden acknowledged they should have been doing better testing all along.

Then came a ferocious cross-examination from defense attorney Robert Sheketoff. Robinson had been given immunity by the government, Sheketoff established, suggesting she was out to save herself. He said she was lying, saying she had a grudge against Chin and was changing her initial story to put Chin into that damaging meeting with Cadden.

Indeed, Sheketoff established that Cadden and NECC had provided Robinson with a lawyer, suggesting she was doing Cadden's bidding in implicating Chin, who Cadden blamed for the entire catastrophe.

Robinson went silent and unresponsive for question after question. She answered that: she couldn't remember, she couldn't understand, she couldn't remember that she couldn't understand.

But at the end of it, there was still that expletive email from Chin telling Ms. Quality Control where she could go with four exclamation points.

This segment aired on October 6, 2017.


Headshot of David Boeri

David Boeri Senior Reporter
Now retired, David Boeri was a senior reporter at WBUR.



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