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Charles City Nurse Anesthetist Sentenced to Nearly Three Years in Federal Prison for Drug Tampering and Diversion Scheme

OCI BadgeDepartment of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of Iowa

Friday, May 29, 2020

Replaced Dozens of Vials of Fentanyl with Saline in a Hospital’s Surgery and Birthing Centers

A Charles City nurse anesthetist who secretly tampered with vials of fentanyl in a hospital’s surgery and birthing centers was sentenced today to nearly three years in federal prison.

Christopher Scott West, age 46, from Charles City, Iowa, received the prison term after an August 1, 2019 guilty plea to one count of tampering with a consumer product and one count of acquiring and attempting to acquire a controlled substance by means of misrepresentation, fraud, deception, and subterfuge.

At the guilty plea and other hearings in the case, the evidence showed that, beginning in 2017, West was a certified nurse anesthetist (CRNA) at a hospital in Charles City.  From February 2018 through September 7, 2018, West used his State of Iowa nursing licenses to gain access to two controlled substances, fentanyl and sufentanil, at the hospital.  The fentanyl and sufentanil was intended for patients at the hospital, but West used them himself.  In order to avoid getting caught, West perforated tamper-proof paper around the vials, carefully opened the vials, replaced the drugs in the vials with saline, glued the vials shut, and placed the vials back in the hospital’s secure dispensaries in the surgery and birthing centers.

The hospital discovered West’s scheme on September 7, 2018, when a hospital visitor discovered West passed out in a public bathroom. West had a rubber tourniquet and empty and full vials of propofol, another drug used in anesthesia, in his coat pocket.  After the hospital declined West’s request to keep his drug theft scheme “internal,” West told the hospital’s pharmacist that she needed to remove vials of what were supposed to contain narcotics in the surgery center because he did not want those adulterated narcotics used on patients.  The pharmacist found tampered vials of fentanyl in the surgery center.  However, over the ensuing weekend, the pharmacist also checked the hospital’s birthing center.  The pharmacist also found tampered vials in the birthing center, too.  In total, the hospital discovered 28 tampered vials of fentanyl and 15 tampered vials of sufentanil in the hospital’s secure dispensaries.

On September 9, 2018, West admitted to the hospital’s surgeon that West had administered three different forms of anesthesia to a young patient in part so that he would have narcotics left over for his personal use.  The patient suffered complications from his surgery and required an extra day in the hospital and intermittent catheterizations.  A subsequent review of other procedures West allegedly performed revealed that West had purported to use fentanyl consistently in colonoscopies and cataract surgeries as early as December 2017.  A prior review of West’s obstetrics patients in 2018 revealed that one in four of West’s spinal anesthesia patients received narcotics that were insufficient to reduce labor pain, such that the women giving birth also required general anesthesia.

West was sentenced in Cedar Rapids by United States District Court Judge C.J. Williams.  West was sentenced to 34 months’ imprisonment and fined $15,000.  He was ordered to make $31,998.34 in restitution to the hospital and ordered to pay $3,158.18 in costs of prosecution.  He must also serve a three-year term of supervised release after the prison term.  There is no parole in the federal system.  The district court also ordered West to forfeit his two State of Iowa nursing licenses to the United States because defendant used those licenses to further his drug diversion scheme.

“Medical professionals have an obligation to care for some of the most vulnerable members of our society,” said United States Attorney Peter Deegan.  “By his selfish actions, Mr. West took advantage of his trusted position at his local community hospital.  He endangered the health and very lives of patients at the hospital.  This sentence sends a clear message that such dangerous behavior will not be tolerated.”

“The FDA oversees the U.S. drug supply to ensure that it is safe and effective, and those who knowingly tamper with medicines put patients’ health at risk,” said Special Agent in Charge Charles L. Grinstead, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations Kansas City Field Office. “We will continue to protect the public health and bring to justice health care professionals who take advantage of their unique position and compromise their patients’ health and comfort by tampering with needed drugs.”

West was released on the bond previously set and is to surrender to the United States Marshal on a date yet to be set.  The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Tim Vavricek and investigated by the Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations, the Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement, and the Charles City Police Department.

Court file information at https://ecf.iand.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/login.pl.

The case file number is 19-CR-2013.

Health Care Fraud
USAO - Iowa, Northern

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