Whistleblower's attorney says Pfizer's guilty plea today opens new chapter on aggressive enforcement of pharma companies

Sentencing memo reveals details of Pfizer's illegal sales and marketing tactics

Oct. 16, 2009, WASHINGTON, DC -- Pfizer Inc., through a wholly owned subsidiary, pleaded guilty to a felony today in federal district court in Boston as part of a plea agreement that includes a record-breaking $1.3 billion criminal fine for the illegal marketing of the painkiller Bextra for unsafe and unapproved uses.

"This case exposed the total disregard a pharmaceutical company had for patients' lives by putting profits above all else," said Erika A. Kelton, a Washington, DC, attorney with Phillips & Cohen LLP, which represented the whistleblower who exposed Pfizer's "off-label" marketing of Bextra. "Pfizer created a corporate culture that encouraged and rewarded those who ignored federal safety laws to boost sales. It took an insider to bring these violations to light and dedicated government officials to stop them."

The federal government lays out details of Pfizer's sales and marketing tactics and strategy for Bextra in a sentencing memorandum posted on the Phillips & Cohen website.

Pfizer's plea agreement was announced Sept. 2 as part of a record $2.3 billion settlement with the federal government, but it has to be approved by the court. In addition to the $1.3 billion criminal fine, Pfizer paid $502 million to the federal government to settle the whistleblower lawsuit brought by Phillips & Cohen that first revealed Pfizer's off-label marketing of Bextra. The remainder of the settlement covered five other "qui tam" lawsuits involving different drugs.

It was the largest criminal fine of any kind imposed in the U.S., the largest healthcare fraud settlement and the largest ever civil fraud settlement against a pharmaceutical company.

"The unprecedented size of the fine certainly shows the government is ratcheting up enforcement involving prescription drugs to protect patients and the Medicare program," Kelton said. "This is great news for whistleblowers, the public and the U.S. Treasury."

Kelton noted that today's outcome was possible only through the work of dedicated and talented government attorneys and staff, in particular Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Bloom and Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Poswistilo, both with the U.S. Attorney's office in Boston; Justice Department Trial Attorney Sanjay Bhambhani; and the National Medicaid Fraud Control Units team, headed by Massachusetts Assistant Attorney General Robert Patten.

For more information about Phillips & Cohen's record, see P&C's Successful Whistleblower Cases.