A Phoenix woman pleaded guilty in federal district court today to attempted mail and wire fraud in connection with a scheme to defraud a pharmaceutical giant and a trust set up to register victims for settlement benefits.
The case relates to claims about harmful side-effects of the antiobesity drug commonly known as Fen-Phen, shorthand for Fenfluraxamine and Phentermine. It was originally marketed by American Home Products, which was acquired by Wyeth, which in turn was taken over by Pfizer in 2009.
The former drug, marketed under the name Pondimin, was shown to cause potentially fatal pulmonary hypertension and heart valve problems. That eventually led the FDA to pull Fen-Phen from the market in 1997 and resulted in legal damages in the billions. (Phentermine was not shown to have harmful effects.)
Prosecutors alleged in an indictment unsealed in May 2009 that Dee Lynn Andrews, who allegedly used as least six different aliases, had filed a lawsuit against Wyeth in October 2000 in Orange County, Florida under the name "Debra Simpson."
Andrews' lawsuit said she had ingested Pondimin and sought damages, the government's plea memo said. The plea memo said Andrews settled the case with Wyeth for about $200,000 in January 2001 and signed a release in which she promised not sue Wyeth for any additional claims arising out of Andrews' purchase, use and ingestion of Pondimin.
She later retained multiple lawyers, authorities said, to file forms with the AHP Settlement Trust in order to register Andrews for benefits to which she was not entitled.
In 2003 and 2004, Andrews filed two lawsuits in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, and one in New Jersey Superior Court, in which she sued Wyeth and others to recover damages she allegedly suffered as a result of taking Pondimin, federal prosecutors said.
In March 2004, the Trust sent a check to Andrews for $61 based on a claim submitted by Andrews for a drug refund, prosecutors said. In April, the plea memo said Andrews notified the Trust she had been "diagnosed FDA Positive" and requested she be sent a form to obtain a higher level of benefits.
The plea memo said that the government and defense agree that the intended loss from Andrews' filing of her three lawsuits was at least $165,000.
U. S. District Judge Anita Brody set sentencing for August 28. Andrews remains free on $50,000 unsecured bond.