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Imprisoned drug-diluting pharmacist to be moved to halfway house soon, victims' lawyer says

Diluted Drugs Former Pharmacist
Posted at 1:45 PM, Apr 17, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A former Kansas City-area pharmacist who has been incarcerated for more than two decades in a profit-boosting scheme to dilute tens of thousands of prescriptions for seriously ill patients is being moved to a halfway house this summer, an attorney for the victims said Tuesday.

Victims of Robert Courtney are outraged and demanding new charges, said Mike Ketchmark, an attorney whose office was involved in more than 275 wrongful death lawsuits against Courtney.

Ketchmark said he has gotten close to 100 calls since Courtney's victims began receiving emails from the Department of Justice about the plan to transfer the 71-year-old to a Springfield, Missouri, facility in June. Ketchmark forwarded one of the emails to The Associated Press.

“His victims don’t believe that ... he should ever walk free again, and (think) that he ought to be charged under state law with murder, and ought to be held accountable,” he said. “And we are calling upon the Jackson County prosecutor’s office to do just that.”

A prosecutor’s office spokesman, Mike Mansur, said in an email that the office hadn't reviewed the evidence yet.

Courtney's lawyer, Jeremy Gordon, didn't immediately respond to an email.

“It’s gut wrenching,” Ketchmark said, recalling a recent conversation he had with a man in his 80s whose wife was among the victims. “He was sobbing and bawling uncontrollably at the loss of his wife. And he just cannot believe that Robert Courtney is going to be potentially released from prison.”

During an investigation that began in 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 affected 4,200 patients.

Courtney told prosecutors that he diluted the drugs to make money to pay a $600,000 tax bill and the final third of a $1 million pledge to his church.

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

Don Ledford, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, directed questions to the Federal 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. Its website lists Courtney’s final release date as May 2, 2026.

This isn't the first time plans to move Courtney have met with resistance. He had been slotted to be released in 2020 to a halfway house as part of a review by the U.S. Department of Justice in response to the pandemic.

At the time Courtney’s own health was failing. One motion seeking compassionate release noted that he had suffered from hypertension, a stroke, three heart attacks, cancer and internal bleeding while in prison.

But Courtney remained locked up after four U.S. lawmakers called on then Attorney General William Barr to block the early release.