Originally published Dec. 14, 2011: Calling the conduct "fundamentally wrong," a federal judge Tuesday sentenced the last of four former Synthes Inc. executives to eight months in prison for his role in a scheme to illegally promote and test bone cements used by doctors in back operations, three of which ended with patients dying on the operating table.
Richard Bohner, 57, of Malvern, hugged his wife and was led off in handcuffs after U.S. District Judge Legrome D. Davis announced the sentence at the federal courthouse in Philadelphia.
Synthes, a medical-device manufacturer, is based in Switzerland but has several facilities in Chester County.
In recent years, device and pharmaceuticals companies have paid billions of dollars to settle criminal charges, especially for promoting products not approved for specific uses by the Food and Drug Administration. But executives rarely go to prison.
A slice of the law called the Park Doctrine can hold corporate officers responsible for things that happen in their companies, especially if they did nothing to stop the unlawful conduct. Even then, executives rarely see prison.
This case was different, Davis said Tuesday, because of "a very clear, stark and disturbing picture" of the executives actively participating in the illegal behavior in pursuit of profits. "This is not a Park Doctrine case in the traditional sense, because the decision-makers are here," he said.
Late last year, Synthes paid $24.3 million to settle criminal charges. But it got about that much in May, when Exton-based Kensey Nash Corp. acquired Norian, the wholly owned bone-cement subsidiary Synthes was ordered to sell. A month earlier, Johnson & Johnson had announced it was buying Synthes for $21.3 billion.
All four ex-Synthes executives pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count but had hoped for probation. Michael Huggins, 54, of West Chester, a former president of Synthes North America, and Thomas Higgins, 55, of Berwyn, former leader of Synthes' spine division, were sentenced to nine months.
Bohner was next in line in authority among the four, serving as vice president of operations during the illegal trials (the patient deaths occurred in 2003 and 2004). He supervised John Walsh, 48, of Coatesville, who was in charge of regulatory affairs and got five months in prison. Each of the four must pay a $100,000 fine.
Huggins, Higgins, and Walsh, sentenced Nov. 21, have said they would appeal. Huggins and Walsh have already entered prison. Higgins is due to report Monday, unless the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit rules that he may remain free while it hears his appeal.
Bohner's attorney, Brent Gurney, would not comment on the sentence.
"The government is pleased with the sentence," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Crawley, the lead prosecutor on the case. "The court recognized the severity of the harm done."