Ex-pharma CEO gets over two years in prison for bribery scheme

BOSTON (AP) — The former head of a drug company was sentenced on Wednesday to two and a half years in federal prison in the United States (US) in a bribery and kickbacks scheme that prosecutors said helped fuel the opioid crisis.

Michael Babich, a Scottsdale, Arizona, resident who was CEO of Insys Therapeutics, was sentenced in Boston federal court after pleading guilty to conspiracy and fraud and serving as a key witness for prosecutors.

Employees for Arizona-based Insys paid millions of dollars in bribes to doctors nationwide to overprescribe Subsys, a powerful, addictive fentanyl-based painkiller for cancer patients, prosecutors argued.

They said the company paid doctors fees for participating in sham speaking events. It also misled insurers to get payment for the drug, which cost as much as USD19,000 a month, prosecutors said.

The case was considered the first to hold an opioid maker and its executives criminally liable for a nationwide drug crisis that has claimed nearly 400,000 lives over two decades.

Prosecutors had sought two years in prison for Babich in recognition for his cooperation. Babich’s lawyers had argued for no jail time.

Sunrise Lee, a former regional sales director at the Arizona company, was also sentenced on Wednesday to a year and a day in prison.

Babich and Lee are among seven former company leaders being sentenced this month.

The company’s former national sales director and its former vice president received nearly three years in federal prison. Another former regional sales director was sentenced to more than two years.