Ex-NC workers plead guilty in tainted syringe case

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Two former workers at a North Carolina plant pleaded guilty for their roles in shipping bacteria-tainted syringes that prosecutors blamed for five deaths and hundreds of infections, and authorities are searching for the company's chief executive.

Prosecutors said the company shipped heparin- and saline-filled syringes contaminated with bacteria to hospitals and clinics in Colorado, Florida, Illinois and Texas. Heparin, a blood thinner, and saline are used to flush intravenous lines during cancer treatments, kidney dialysis and other procedures.

Plant manager Aniruddha Patel, 43, of Carpentersville, Ill., and quality control director Ravindra Kumar Sharma, 54, of Richmond, Va., each were sentenced Monday in federal court more than four years in prison for fraud and allowing tainted drugs into the marketplace.

The company's chief executive, Dushyant Patel, was indicted last week on 10 charges including fraud and selling adulterated medical devices. An arrest warrant for Patel, who may be in his native India, has been issued.

U.S. Attorney George Holding did not have a name for Patel's attorney.

Patel said about a year ago when federal officials were investigating the outbreak that company voluntarily recalled the implicated syringes and there was "nothing out there anymore."

The company sold nearly $7 million worth of heparin and saline syringes between 2006 and 2007, court documents said.

"Citizens in this country trust that producers of medical devices aren't lying when they say that have adequately tested a given product," said Holding. "As we've seen in this case, such lies can literally mean the difference between life and death."

Prosecutors said the plant operators at the Angier facility skirted checking sterility so the company could ship syringes faster. The drugs weren't produced at the plant but were loaded into syringes there and shipped.

Manufacturing dates also were falsified to make it appear that safeguards were followed, according to court documents.

Angier is about 20 miles south of Raleigh.

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