Pharmacist admits guilt, apologizes

Wednesday, February 27, 2002

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Pharmacist Robert R. Courtney struggled to maintain his composure Tuesday while telling a packed courtroom that he had "no rational explanation" for why he diluted cancer drugs for 34 patients.

Courtney, 49, pleaded guilty to 20 federal counts of adulterating, tampering with and mislabeling the chemotherapy drugs Taxol and Gemzar. Under a plea agreement, prosecutors will recommend a minimum of 17 1/2 years and a maximum of 30 years in prison. He also faces a total fine of up to $15 million.

Under questioning Tuesday from attorneys and U.S. District Judge Ortrie Smith, Courtney, who was in shackles, repeatedly admitted that he was guilty of diluting the drugs, but said he didn't think of the consequences and didn't mean to harm anyone.

In a statement that brought many victims and Courtney's family to tears, the pharmacist said he could not understand his own actions.

"I have had a long period of time in isolation to reflect on my conduct," said Courtney, who stopped often to regain his composure. "I keep asking myself 'Why?' Why would I commit crimes so profoundly inconsistent with my faith, beliefs and my relationship with my Lord and Savior?"

"In my daily readings, I can find no rational explanation. ... I am guilty and I accept full responsibility. To the victims, I am extremely sorry."

In jail since August

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gene Porter said prosecutors "fully intend" to seek the 30 years.

That would be fine with Henry Chelston, of Independence, whose wife, Delia, took Taxol prepared by Courtney to fight her ovarian cancer.

"I think it should be a little bit longer" than 17 1/2 years, said Chelston, 66. "He'll still be healthy at 67."

Courtney has been jailed since surrendering Aug. 15 to investigators working with a Kansas City oncologist for whom Courtney prepared intravenous doses of Gemzar and Taxol.

In the plea, Courtney also acknowledged that he and his corporation, Courtney Pharmacy Inc., diluted and tampered with the drugs Platinol and Paraplatin, conspired to traffic in stolen drugs and caused the filing of false Medicare claims.

In his confession, Courtney wrote that he was motivated by a need for money, including a $600,000 tax liability and $330,000 to fulfill the balance of a $1 million pledge he had made to his church.

Under the agreement, Courtney must disclose any other criminal activity he committed and any knowledge he possesses of crimes by others. If the government believes he has been truthful, he will not face any other charges.

Porter said the prosecutors had evidence of the 34 dilutions -- eight that were detected by laboratory tests and 26 that Courtney described in a written confession.

The plea agreement requires that Courtney's assets -- estimated to total between $10 million and $12 million -- will be used as restitution for victims in the criminal case.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: